The plaintiffs in the legal challenge to the constitutionality of Missouri’s school funding formula have begun presenting their case in Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City. The first witness for the plaintiffs: Bob Bartman, Superintendent of the Center School District in Kansas City. He’s the same Bob Bartman who was the first witness for the plaintiffs in the 1992 challenge to the funding formula which was in use at that time.

Back then, Bartman was the State Education Commissioner. Bartman’s 2007 testimony served as a history lesson in a courtroom in which attorneys and media greatly outnumbered witnesses and other interested parties. Plaintiffs’ attorney Alex Bartlett slowly and methodically had Bartman explain various educational requirements – funding and performance – set out by the State Constitution and in state law.

Bartman also spoke of the funding concerns and other challenges that led to the 1990s lawsuit. He explained how many of the challenges that existed a decade and a half ago are still with us today and have, in many cases, taken on greater urgency. He says one of the key issues in determining the adequacy of funding is the chosen definition of “equitable.” Bartman says the thinking has been that an equal dollar amount per student satisfies equitability requirements. But he hastens to add that is not the case. Bartman says an at-risk student – one who lives in a dangerous neighborhood or one who does not speak English as a first language, for instance – requires more funding than a student who has limited risks.

236 school districts are taking part in this lawsuit which challenges the equitability and adequacy of the current funding formula. Bartman is one of approximately two dozen witnesses who could be called, by the plaintiffs, to testify in the coming weeks. Proceedings are expected to run through mid-February.