King v. State, No. 08–2006.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtMANSFIELD
Citation283 Ed. Law Rep. 390,818 N.W.2d 1
Decision Date24 May 2012
Docket NumberNo. 08–2006.
PartiesRozanne E. KING; Alisha Jane King; Dacie S. Houston, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of Skylar Dwayne Ostrander, Chay Cortez Ostrander, and Adlia William Cortez Flood III; Brandy R. Drake, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of Logan Genner Luhmann, Susan Maule, Stephanie Maule, and Jacob Maule; Michael Campbell, Individually and as Father and Next Friend of George Campbell and Sophia Campbell; and Laura Campbell, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of Christopher Rasso, George Campbell, and Sophia Campbell, Appellants, v. The STATE of Iowa; Chester J. Culver, in His Official Capacity as the Governor of the State of Iowa; The Iowa Department of Education; and Judy Jeffrey, in Her Official Capacity as the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, Appellees.

818 N.W.2d 1
283 Ed.
Law Rep. 390

Rozanne E. KING; Alisha Jane King; Dacie S. Houston, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of Skylar Dwayne Ostrander, Chay Cortez Ostrander, and Adlia William Cortez Flood III; Brandy R. Drake, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of Logan Genner Luhmann, Susan Maule, Stephanie Maule, and Jacob Maule; Michael Campbell, Individually and as Father and Next Friend of George Campbell and Sophia Campbell; and Laura Campbell, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of Christopher Rasso, George Campbell, and Sophia Campbell, Appellants,
v.
The STATE of Iowa; Chester J. Culver, in His Official Capacity as the Governor of the State of Iowa; The Iowa Department of Education; and Judy Jeffrey, in Her Official Capacity as the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, Appellees.

No. 08–2006.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

April 20, 2012.
Rehearing Denied May 24, 2012.


[818 N.W.2d 4]


Douglas E. Gross, Rebecca A. Brommel and Haley R. Van Loon of Brown, Winick,

[818 N.W.2d 5]

Graves, Gross, Baskerville and Schoenebaum, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellants.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Jeanie Kunkle Vaudt, Assistant Attorney General, for appellees.


MANSFIELD, Justice.

A generation ago, in Johnson v. Charles City Community Schools Board of Education, 368 N.W.2d 74, 79 (Iowa 1985), we observed that the “state has a clear right to set minimum educational standards for all its children and a corresponding responsibility to see to it that those standards are honored.” Yet we also concluded that a “court is without either the resources or the expertise necessary” to draft minimum educational standards for private religious schools. Id. at 80.

This case concerns Iowa's standards for public schools. It asks us, in effect, to require the state to impose additional public school standards, urging that such action is both constitutionally and statutorily required.

Adhering to the lessons of the Johnson case, we decline the invitation. We hold that plaintiffs' specific challenges to the educational policies of this state are properly directed to the plaintiffs' elected representatives, rather than the courts. We find the plaintiffs have not stated claims for relief under article IX, division 2, section 3, article I, section 6, or article I, section 9 of the Iowa Constitution, or Iowa Code section 256.37 (2007).

Our decision does not foreclose future constitutional challenges to actions taken by state or local officials in the vital field of public education. We decide only that this case, brought by these plaintiffs, should not go forward because the factual allegations, even if proved, do not set forth a potential constitutional or statutory violation under the foregoing provisions.

Accordingly, we affirm the district court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' petition.

I. Facts and Procedural Background.

Because this case was decided on a motion to dismiss, our relevant point of reference is the plaintiffs' petition. The plaintiffs' first amended and substituted petition, which the district court ultimately dismissed, is twenty-three pages long. It includes a two-page summary, entitled “Nature of the Lawsuit,” as well as thirteen pages of “Factual Allegations.”

The sixteen named plaintiffs are students or parents of students who attended or currently attend public schools in the Davenport, Des Moines, or West Harrison Community School Districts. As explained by plaintiffs' counsel at oral argument, plaintiffs' position is that Iowa's educational system is not adequately serving students in either the largest (e.g., Davenport and Des Moines) or the smallest (e.g., West Harrison) school districts. The case is not brought as a class action.

According to the initial summary contained in the petition, “[t]he quiet, ugly truth is that Iowa's educational system is but a shadow of its glorious past and our leaders are whistling by its graveyard.” Plaintiffs allege that there exists a “disparity in educational outcomes [in Iowa] based upon where one goes to school” and there has been a “failure[ ] to provide similar educational opportunities for all of Iowa's students.”

Plaintiffs have not named any local school officials as defendants. They have sued, rather, the State of Iowa, the Governor of Iowa, the Iowa Department of Education, and the Director of the Department. In their initial summary, plaintiffs allege that these statewide entities and officials “have failed to establish standards, failed to enforce any standards, failed to

[818 N.W.2d 6]

adopt effective educator pay systems, and failed to establish and maintain an adequate education delivery system.”

In the ensuing factual allegations, plaintiffs allege that Iowa's statewide laws and rules are “broad educational requirements and accreditation standards for schools within the State of Iowa.” They do not, in plaintiffs' view, contain “specific, detailed information regarding the courses that schools must provide or offer to [their] students nor do they set forth any details regarding the skills that must be attained by students at each grade level.” Repeatedly, plaintiffs criticize Iowa for the lack of “state-mandated standards.” They maintain that Iowa is the only state without any statewide academic standards. Plaintiffs also fault Iowa for not “providing specific testing of students at various educational levels and in a variety of subject matters like other states,” instead relying on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and the Iowa Test of Educational Development (ITED).

This part of the petition refers to a number of reports and studies.1 For example, plaintiffs note that according to Education Week's Quality Counts 2008 report, Iowa received a “C” for educational performance.2

Plaintiffs also cite Iowa Department of Education statistics that, in their view, show how students attending the smallest school districts (less than 250 students) are disadvantaged. According to the Department's 2007 Annual Condition of Education report, teachers in those districts have, on average, less experience, fewer advanced degrees, and more teaching assignments than their colleagues at the largest school districts, such as Davenport and Des Moines. Iowa Dep't of Educ., The Annual Condition of Education at 47, 75, 76 (2007) [hereinafter The Annual Condition of Education], available at http:// educateiowa. gov/ index. php? option= com_ docman& task= cat_ view& gid= 646& itemid= 1563. Unsurprisingly, according to the petition, students in the smallest districts also have fewer curriculum units available to them.3Id. at 112.

Additionally, students from Iowa's smallest school districts receive, on average, lower ACT scores. In 2007, according to the Department of Education report, the average ACT composite score was 21.3 for students at districts in the lowest enrollment category (less than 250 students). Id. at 192. By contrast, the average ACT composite score was 22.5 for students attending districts in the largest enrollment category. Id. The petition notes, however,

[818 N.W.2d 7]

that the national average ACT composite score was 21.2. Id. at 186. Thus, all categories of school districts in Iowa scored above the national average.4

Plaintiffs further allege that Iowa's ranking in science and math is “consistently declining”; that Iowa “has continued to decline in the national rankings for math and reading proficiencies and other measures of student achievement”; that “Iowa ranks well below the national average for students taking gateway courses such as Algebra, Algebra 2 or Geometry”; that “Iowa ranks thirty-eighth in the nation for AP [Advanced Placement] test scores”; and that “[m]any Iowa students are not prepared to enter the workforce or post-secondary education without additional training or remediation when they graduate from high school.”

Some of the factual allegations concern “the circumstances of the plaintiffs.” These allegations do not actually discuss the plaintiffs individually, but rather their school districts. According to the petition, one of the districts, West Harrison, has approximately 500 students. (Thus, it does not fall into the smallest category of school district, i.e., less than 250 students, referenced earlier in the petition.) Among other things, plaintiffs allege that West Harrison had an average ACT composite score of 18.6 in 2006, nearly three and a half points below the average ACT score for all Iowa students; that only ten to twelve percent of West Harrison's teachers have advanced degrees; that West Harrison does not have anyone on staff to assist high school students with college planning or other career counseling; and that classes at West Harrison do not adequately prepare students for a college level curriculum.

With regard to the Davenport school district, plaintiffs do not find fault with teacher experience, staffing, or class availability, but allege that its average composite ACT score in 2007 was 20.5. No allegations are made as to teacher experience, staffing, class availability, or ACT scores in the Des Moines school district. However, with respect to all three of the school districts, plaintiffs allege that the percentages of students found proficient in math and reading according to ITBS and ITED scores generally have ranged between fifty and seventy percent, a level that plaintiffs appear to believe is unsatisfactory.

The petition has two counts seeking relief. In Count I, plaintiffs request a declaratory judgment. They allege that education is a fundamental right or alternatively that the current education laws (“or lack thereof”) are “irrational, arbitrary, and capricious” and not “rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest.” They also allege that “some students are receiving a more effective education than other students based solely upon where the student resides.” They allege the defendants have “failed to establish and provide access to an effective education” by (1) “failing...

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