Rose v. Council for Better Educ., Inc.

Decision Date08 June 1989
Docket NumberNo. 88-SC-804-TG,88-SC-804-TG
Citation790 S.W.2d 186
Parties60 Ed. Law Rep. 1289 John A. ROSE, President Pro Tempore of the Senate; Donald J. Blandford, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Appellants, v. The COUNCIL FOR BETTER EDUCATION, INC. et al., Appellees.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court — District of Kentucky

William E. Scent, Karen Scent, Scent & Scent, PSC, Paducah, for appellants.

Bert T. Combs, Debra H. Dawahare, Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, Lexington, Theodore H. Lavit, Lebanon, for appellees.

Philip M. Lanier, Louisville, for amicus curiae Prichard Committee for Academ ic Excellence.

Phillip J. Shepherd, Frankfort, for amicus curiae Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

STEPHENS, Chief Justice.

The issue we decide on this appeal is whether the Kentucky General Assembly has complied with its constitutional mandate to "provide an efficient system of common schools throughout the state." 1

In deciding that it has not, we intend no criticism of the substantial efforts made by the present General Assembly and by its predecessors, nor do we intend to substitute our judicial authority for the authority and discretion of the General Assembly. We are, rather, exercising our constitutional duty in declaring that, when we consider the evidence in the record, and when we apply the constitutional requirement of Section 183 to that evidence, it is crystal clear that the General Assembly has fallen short of its duty to enact legislation to provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the state. In a word, the present system of common schools in Kentucky is not an "efficient" one in our view of the clear mandate of Section 183. The common school system in Kentucky is constitutionally deficient.

In reaching this decision, we are ever mindful of the immeasurable worth of education to our state and its citizens, especially to its young people. The framers of our constitution intended that each and every child in this state should receive a proper and an adequate education, to be provided for by the General Assembly. This opinion dutifully applies the constitutional test of Section 183 to the existing system of common schools. We do no more, nor may we do any less.

The goal of the framers of our constitution, and the polestar of this opinion, is eloquently and movingly stated in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education:

"education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." Id., 347 U.S. 483, 493, 74 S.Ct. 686, 691, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954) (emphasis added).

These thoughts were as applicable in 1891 when Section 183 was adopted as they are today and the goals they express reflect the goals set out by the framers of our Kentucky Constitution.


This declaratory judgment action was filed in the Franklin Circuit Court by multiple plaintiffs, including the Council for Better Education, Inc. a non-profit Kentucky corporation whose membership consists of sixty-six local school districts in the state. Also joining as plaintiffs were the Boards of Education of the Dayton and Harlan Independent School Districts and the school districts of Elliott, Knox, McCreary, Morgan and Wolfe Counties. Twenty-two public school students from McCreary, Wolfe, Morgan and Elliott Counties and Harlan and Dayton Independent School districts were also named, suing, respectively, by and through their parents as next friends.

An averment was made in the original complaint that the student-plaintiffs were not only suing as individuals but also representing a class of all similarly situated students attending so-called "poor" school districts. The requisites of a class action were pleaded. Civil Rule 23 [hereinafter CR].

The defendants named in the complaint were the Governor, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Treasurer, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the State Board of Education and its individual members.

The complaint included allegations that the system of school financing provided for by the General Assembly is inadequate; places too much emphasis on local school board resources; and results in inadequacies, inequities and inequalities throughout the state so as to result in an inefficient system of common school education in violation of Kentucky Constitution, Sections 1, 3 and 183 and the equal protection clause and the due process of law clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Additionally the complaint maintains the entire system is not efficient under the mandate of Section 183.

The relief sought by the plaintiffs was a declaration of rights to the effect that the system be declared unconstitutional; that the funding of schools also be determined to be unconstitutional and inadequate; that the defendant, Superintendent of Public Instruction be enjoined from further implementing said school statutes; that a mandamus be issued, directing the Governor to recommend to the General Assembly the enactment of appropriate legislation which would be in compliance with the aforementioned constitutional provisions; that a mandamus be issued, directing the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to place before the General Assembly appropriate legislation which is constitutionally valid; and that a mandamus be issued, directing the General Assembly to provide for an "equitable and adequate funding program for all school children so as to establish an 'efficient system of common schools.' "

The answers filed by the various defendants were basically identical. It was pled that the complaint failed to state a claim against any of the defendants; that the court had no jurisdiction because the subject matter is purely a "political" one; that all school boards should have been joined as parties defendants; that all members of the General Assembly (1986) should also have been joined as parties defendant; that all the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the action; that, specifically, the plaintiff Council for Better Education, Inc., had no legal authority to sue; that the plaintiff school boards similarly had no legal authority to sue; that the class action was improper; and as would be expected, the defendants denied all of the alleged constitutional violations and the facts underlying such alleged violations.

The defendants also filed a self-styled "affirmative defense" claiming that education reform laws passed by the General Assembly at a special session in 1985 and various budget changes and other educational laws passed by the General Assembly at its 1986 regular session inferentially corrected the situation alleged in the complaint. Reference was also made to past legislative efforts of the General Assembly in the education field, presumably to further demonstrate the General Assembly's compliance with its constitutional mandate.

In the trial court, the defendants moved for a summary judgment, based primarily on the claim that no relief could be granted against the General Assembly because of lack of service on all 138 members thereof and that the parties lacked standing or legal capacity to sue. The trial court overruled this motion in its entirety.

The case was tried by the court without the intervention of a jury. Evidence was presented by deposition, along with oral testimony and much documentary evidence. The trial court entered the first of several orders, findings of fact and judgments on May 31, 1988. 2 Generally, that order found Kentucky's common school finance system to be unconstitutional and discriminatory and held that the General Assembly had not produced an efficient system of common schools throughout the state. On October 14, 1988 a final, appealable judgment was entered.

A notice of appeal was timely filed by the present appellants, John A. Rose, President Pro Tempore of the Senate of Kentucky and Donald J. Blandford, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Kentucky.

Upon a motion properly made, we transferred the appeal to this Court.


Following the trial of this case, the circuit judge, in three separate documents, prepared extensive findings of fact, conclusions of law and judgment(s). Because of the length of these documents, we feel it important to analyze them in some detail.


Following the bench trial, and upon proper submission, the judge on May 31, 1988 entered a document that is styled, "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment."

The trial judge identified four issues before him: (1) The necessity for defining the phrase "an efficient system of common schools" as contained in Section 183 of the Kentucky Constitution; (2) Whether education is a "fundamental right" under our Constitution; (3) Whether Kentucky's current method of financing its common schools violates Section 183, and (4) Whether students in the so-called "poor" school districts are denied equal protection of the laws.

"Efficient," in the Kentucky constitutional sense was defined as a system which required ...

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