School Law Bulletin #2001/04

Anatomy of a School Funding Dispute: Guilford County 2000

Sunday, April 1, 2001

IN THE SUMMER OF 2000 Guilford County experienced a contentious battle over public school funding. The county board of commissioners and the county school board were drawn into a dramatic debate over the responsibility of local taxpayers to fund education.

The dispute had been foreshadowed in previous budget years, when school system budget requests emphasized the need to increase funding levels to meet the demands of a growing and diverse Guilford County school population. In May 2000 several county commissioners announced that funds did not exist in the Guilford County budget to meet the school system’s needs. When in June the board of commissioners made its budget allocation to the public schools for the 2000–2001 school year, it was far short of the amount requested.

The school board met on June 19, 2000. In closed session, the board members discussed the legal issues surrounding a potential challenge to the school funding level adopted in the county budget. They came out into open session and voted nine-to-two that the funds allocated were not sufficient to support a system of free public schools in Guilford County, opening the door to a very public and very divisive lawsuit.

The dispute was resolved on August 4, 2000, with a consent judgment, but between June 19 and August 4 the county was barraged with information, opinions, editorials, and interviews dealing with school funding. Even as of this writing, there are still references in the media to the funding lawsuit and its outcome. What lessons can be learned from Guilford County’s experience?

Download (pdf, 154.31 KB)