Lawsuit seeks equity in Iowa school funding
BY DEIRDRE COX BAKER
DAVENPORT – A Davenport attorney who is the daughter of a former school board president filed a lawsuit on Monday, taking up the fight to equalize Iowa’s school-funding formula.
Catherine Z. Cartee, of Cartee & McKenrick, P.C., Davenport, filed the class action lawsuit late in the day against the State of Iowa, the Iowa General Assembly, the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
“My mom was president of the Davenport School Board for years, and she used to fight for inequities, too” Cartee said of her mother, Patt Zamora.
The suit is filed in behalf of Brean Woods and Becca Frederick, both of Davenport and graduates of the district’s high schools.
The suit charges the state’s funding formula is unfair, and shows that Davenport schools’ per pupil cost was $6,446 in 2015-16, and is $6,591 for the current year.
The suit claims that 176 school districts in Iowa collect up to $175 more per student than Davenport does, using the same funding formula applied across the state.
It charges the practice is a violation of equal protection under the law, a violation of the students’ due process and a violation of the students’ civil rights.
It argues the class action lawsuit is appropriate for this case, in that it represents “all current and former students of Iowa public schools who received the least district cost per-pupil” since the current school funding formula was enacted four decades ago.
The plaintiffs request a jury trial.
No immediate response was available from representatives of the state education department.
Last week, Ryan Wise, the education department director, filed a formal ethics complaint against Davenport Superintendent Art Tate.
That came about 24 hours after the Iowa School Budget Review Commission ruled against the district and Tate’s directive to use $175 per student for district programming. Currently that programming focuses on help for at-risk students.
The money is coming from Davenport’s reserve funds, or part of the estimated $20 million the district has in a savings account.
Cartee said the lawsuit technique was spurned by other lawyers as being “too political.”
“So, I thought, I’ll do this,” she said.
Cartee said what the state is doing is inequitable and discriminatory. “I think it’s time someone actually stands up to the Legislature, and the governor, and gets them to do what’s right,” she said.