BOISE – A third Idaho judge has found the state Legislature’s attempt to end a long-running school funding lawsuit unconstitutional.
Seventh District Judge James C. Herndon threw out the state’s lawsuit against the Challis school district in eastern Idaho, saying HB 403 violates the Idaho constitution on multiple grounds.
The legislation, enacted last year, sought to turn the tables in the long-running case by turning school districts that sued the state over inadequate funding into defendants in individual lawsuits. The state then sued seven school districts, including St. Maries and Lake Pend Oreille, seeking to either force them to repair or replace their own unsafe schoolhouses, or to have courts order no-vote local property tax hikes to fix the problems.
Fourth District Judge Deborah Bail in Boise already ruled the law unconstitutional, but the state appealed her ruling to the Idaho Supreme Court. After hearing arguments, the high court asked both sides for more legal briefing and set additional arguments for early June.
Second District Judge John Bradbury also found the law unconstitutional, in a case involving the Cottonwood School District in north-central Idaho in November. One school district, Midvale, has settled with the state, and the other four judges with pending cases have put their decisions on hold until the state Supreme Court rules.
Robert Huntley, the former Idaho Supreme Court justice who is representing the school districts in the case, said, “We’re pleased that every judge who’s ruled has declared HB 403 unconstitutional.”
The Idaho Attorney General’s office, which is defending the law, couldn’t be reached for comment late Monday.
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican, and state Superintendent of Schools Marilyn Howard, a Democrat, had convened a task force and recommended a settlement of the long-running lawsuit when lawmakers opted to pass HB 403 instead. The settlement would have included millions in new state aid to school districts for school building maintenance, repair and replacement.
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