Committee for Educational Equality v. State, R-VII

Decision Date21 June 1994
Docket NumberR-VII,No. 75660,75660
Parties92 Ed. Law Rep. 1020 COMMITTEE FOR EDUCATIONAL EQUALITY, et al., Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. STATE of Missouri, et al., Defendants-Appellants, and LEE'S SUMMIT SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Plaintiffs-Cross-Appellants, v. STATE of Missouri, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Alex Bartlett, Marshal Wilson, Jefferson City, Kenneth Brostron, Stephen A. Cooper, Sandra A. Padgett, St. Louis, Michael F. Delaney, Mark A. Thornhill, Brian F. Stayton, Shirley Keeler, Kansas City, for appellants.

John Gianoulakis, Lisa A. Pake, Robert G. McClintock, St. Louis, Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., John Munich, Robert L. Presson, Asst. Attys. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondents.

Paul M. Brown, Hancock, Neal C. Staut, et al., St. Louis, for amici.


The judgment below not being final, the appeal is dismissed.

This appeal arises from two consolidated lawsuits filed in the circuit court of Cole County. Two additional parties were allowed to intervene as plaintiffs after that consolidation. Taken together, the plaintiffs include a not-for-profit corporation representing eighty-nine school districts known as the Committee for Educational Equality, the same eighty-nine school districts, separately named, an additional thirty-seven school districts, fifty-one students from the named plaintiff school districts, and two taxpayers. Mixed within the petitions are several claims, some claims more clear than others. Read together, the petitions allege that the funding of schools through the property tax provided for in Mo. const. art. X, § 11, and the "Foundation Formula" for state aid to schools, § 163.031, RSMo 1986, have resulted in inequities in the distribution of money to school districts and, thus, inequities in the quality of education provided to individual students in different parts of the state. Pursuant to Mo. const. article I, §§ 2 and 10, providing for equal protection of the laws and due process, the claim is made that students in the plaintiff public schools are being denied the fundamental right to equality in access to education. None of the plaintiffs make any claim of a denial of federal rights to due process or equal protection of the laws. In addition, the pleadings claim the funds for education provided by the state pursuant to § 163.031, RSMo 1986, are inadequate to provide students a free public education as assertedly required by Mo. const. art. IX, § 1(a). The pleadings also suggest that pursuant to Mo. const. art. III, § 36, no funds may lawfully be appropriated for subordinate purposes until adequate funds for education are provided.

Intermingled with the above allegations is the claim that the General Assembly has violated its duty pursuant to Mo. const. art. IX, § 3(b), which provides in part: "[I]n no case shall there be set apart less than twenty-five percent of the state revenue, exclusive of interest and sinking fund, to be applied annually to the support of the free public schools."

The named defendants are the state of Missouri, the Governor, the Treasurer, the State Board of Education, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, its Commissioner, and the Attorney General.

After the lawsuits were commenced, four school districts, Ladue, Pattonville, Kirkwood and School of the Osage, sought to intervene as defendants apparently because one of the petitions asked for a "pro rata" redistribution of the "Foundation Formula" funds free of the "previous year" restraint of § 163.031, RSMo 1986, and a concern that the trial court might declare unconstitutional the property tax structure, under which those four districts are considered "rich" districts.

An extended trial was held and a judgment entered on January 15, 1993. The operative portion of the judgment now before us includes the following three paragraphs:

The court specifically determines and declares that the Foundation Formula contained in § 163.031, RSMo, at the level at which it is presently funded is unconstitutional because of the provisions of § 1(a) of article IX [providing for free public ....

schools], § 2 of article I [providing for equal protection of the laws], § 36 of article III [providing for appropriations for public education to be second in order] and/or §§ 40(24) and 40(30) of article III [prohibiting the General Assembly from passing any local or special law relating to the management of public schools and prohibiting special laws where general laws can be made applicable] of the Missouri Constitution. 1

The court determines and declares that the General Assembly ... must provide a child living in a poor school district the same opportunity to receive substantially the same educational [sic] as a child living in a rich district, and that deviations from equality in the distribution of resources are not permissible except to provide resources either (a) to the least advantaged or (b) for specifically identified educational needs. The court further determines and declares that the present system of funding public schools in Missouri does not comport with the requirements heretofore declared in this paragraph.

The court determines and declares that the General Assembly must provide adequate funds to establish and maintain a system of public education at the elementary and secondary level providing a general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence at the level necessary in this era to preserve the rights and liberties of the people. The court further declares that the state does not meet the requirements herein above determined and declared in this paragraph.

The judgment did not identify any school district or class of school districts excluded from the operation of § 163.031, RSMo 1986. No finding was made that any district had failed to provide a particular student with a free public education. The judgment focuses primarily on the inequality of educational opportunity for students in "poor" districts and the inadequacy of funding provided by the state.

In addition, the judgment did not order a redistribution of appropriated funds. Although the findings suggest that a new, simplified and more flexible formula might be desirable, the judgment does not require that a new funding formula be established. The judgment only declared that the General Assembly must "provide adequate funds." The trial court withheld giving instructions on how the General Assembly was to accomplish its task. The trial court retained jurisdiction to enter an injunction and other equitable relief. The judgment was stayed until ninety days after the next regular session to give the General Assembly time to enact a "constitutionally sufficient plan for funding public education in Missouri."

The court also reserved for later decision the question of whether the "current level of funding of public education in Missouri meets the minimal constitutional level of twenty-five percent of state revenues as required by § 3(b) of article [IX] of the Missouri Constitution." From this judgment the defendants, state of Missouri and school districts of Pattonville, Ladue, School of the Osage and Kirkwood, appeal. In addition, a cross-appeal was filed by the Lee's Summit group of plaintiffs. This group includes several public school districts as well as students in some of those districts.

The parties seek to impress on us the importance of the claims made and the dire consequences that will follow a ruling unfavorable to their respective positions. Unfortunately, they have presented us with a record complicated by jurisdictional deficiencies that inhibit a decision on the merits. The judgment appealed from fails to fully dispose of all claims, giving rise to questions of appealability of the judgment due to an absence of finality and aggrievement of appealing

                parties. 2  Public school districts and taxpayers seek to invoke rights belonging to individual students, giving rise to questions of standing. 3  Into this morass is added the repeal of the only statute declared to be unconstitutional as applied, which, in turn, raises questions of mootness

At the outset, this Court, sua sponte, must determine its own jurisdiction of this appeal. ABC Fireproof Warehouse Co. v. Clemans, 658 S.W.2d 28, 30 (Mo. banc 1983). This is not a matter of mere technical concern. Judicial integrity and restraint demand it. "To avoid an arbitrary discretion in the courts, it is indispensable that they should be bound by strict rules and precedents which serve to define and point out their duty in every particular case that comes before them." The Federalist Papers No. 78 (Alexander Hamilton). Courts, no less than the citizens they serve, must abide the rules and precedents defining their jurisdiction. To do otherwise is to erode the very foundation of the rule of law.

The right to appeal is established by statute. Mo. const. art. V, § 5. A prerequisite to appellate review is that there be a final judgment. § 512.020, RSMo 1986. Even though all claims were not decided by the judgment, the trial court made an express determination that there was no just reason for delay and its judgment was final for purposes of appeal.

This case clearly involves multiple claims and multiple parties. The rule regarding the appealability of judgments which are not final as to all claims or to all parties is Rule 74.01(b):

When more than one claim for relief is presented in an action, whether as a claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, or when multiple parties are involved, the court may enter a judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the claims or parties only upon an express determination that there is no just reason for delay. In the absence of such determination, any order or other form of decision, however designated, ... shall not terminate the action....

Rule 74.01(b) permits a trial court to designate as final a judgment "as to one or...

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