The Gould Case

 

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The Gould Case

Part of the backdrop to the 1990 Legislative Session was the filing of a lawsuit against the state by several Nebraska citizens.  On January 2, 1990, brothers W. Donald Gould and John S. Gould, filed suit on behalf of themselves and John Gould's minor daughters Donna Lee and Rebecca Lynn against Governor Orr and the State of Nebraska generally.1  The suit was filed in Lancaster County District Court seeking the following action:

  1. a declaration that the plaintiffs were being denied due process of law, equal protection of the law, equal and adequate educational opportunity, and uniform and proportionate taxation in violation of the Constitution of the State of Nebraska;

  2. a declaration that the present statutory structure for funding public schools in Nebraska is unconstitutional and inadequate;

  3. an injunction permanently enjoining the defendants from implementing the unconstitutional educational funding statutes currently in effect;

  4. a mandamus issued to the Governor requiring her to recommend that the Legislature enact legislation pertaining to the schools of Nebraska which will comply with the requirements of the Nebraska Constitution;

  5. a ruling that the court would retain jurisdiction of the matter for purposes of enforcing its order and judgments; and

  6. such other relief as the court may deem the plaintiffs to be entitled to.2

At the time of filing, the plaintiffs all resided in Saunders County, Nebraska, where Donna Lee and Rebecca Lynn were students within the Raymond Central School District.3

The plaintiffs alleged the existing school finance system "resulted in substantial disparity among districts, with the distribution from the School Foundation and Equalization Fund being insufficient to offset the local tax revenue differentials caused by local wealth disparities."4 The plaintiffs further argued that Nebraska's school system was funded by approximately 75% local tax revenue and only 25% by the state.

The plaintiffs provided an example in their court documents to demonstrate just how bad the situation had become:

In 1988-89, for example, the state distributed $1,202.04 per pupil of its School Foundation and Equalization Fund to the state's poorest K- 12 school district, Thurston County School District 16, and $393.86 to the state's wealthiest K-12 school district, Thayer County School District 47.  That same year, the total amount available for each pupil in the Thayer district was $7,119.97, while the Thurston district had only $1,313.46 available per pupil.5

Plaintiffs suggested this inequity "resulted primarily from the fact that the poorer districts have materially smaller tax bases than the wealthier districts."6  This inequity in tax bases also resulted in "significantly higher educational tax levies being assessed against property owners in the poorer districts, with the poorest districts having the highest property tax levies in the state.7 In short, the plaintiffs alleged that the existing school finance system was unconstitutional based upon these inequities.

A final disposition on the Gould case would not arrive until 1993.  In the meantime, the case served to motivate some within the Legislature to act upon the recommendations of the commission established in 1988.  Even today there is debate about the extent to which the Legislature felt pressured by the 1990 lawsuit.  But the issue did surface and resurface during the long and tedious debate of LB 1059.



1Gould v. Orr (1993), 244 Neb. 163.
2 Id., 164.
3 Id.
4 Id., 165.
5 Id.
6 Id.
7 Id.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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