The public schools enroll 104,000 students: 81% White, 9% American Indian, and 4% Latino, with 30% living in poverty and 3% learning English. The State spends $11,615 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“A high degree of intelligence, patriotism, integrity and morality on the part of every voter in a government by the people being necessary in order to insure the continuance of that government and the prosperity and happiness of the people, the legislative assembly shall make provision for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools which shall be open to all children of the state of North Dakota and free from sectarian control. This legislative requirement shall be irrevocable without the consent of the United States and the people of North Dakota.” N.D. Const. art. 8, § 1.
“The legislative assembly shall provide for a uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, beginning with the primary and extending through all grades up to and including schools of higher education, except that the legislative assembly may authorize tuition, fees and service charges to assist in the financing of public schools of higher education.” N.D. Const. art. 8, § 2.
“In all schools instruction shall be given as far as practicable in those branches of knowledge that tend to impress upon the mind the vital importance of truthfulness, temperance, purity, public spirit, and respect for honest labor of every kind. The legislative assembly shall take such other steps as may be necessary to prevent illiteracy, secure a reasonable degree of uniformity in course of study, and to promote industrial, scientific, and agricultural improvements.” N.D. Const. art. 8, §§ 3 and 4.
“All colleges, universities, and other educational institutions, for the support of which lands have been granted to this state, or which are supported by a public tax, shall remain under the absolute and exclusive control of the state. No money raised for the support of the public schools of the state shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school. N.D. Const. art. 8, § 5.
In 1982, in State v. Rivinius, a case challenging the compulsory education law, the North Dakota Supreme Court wrote: “These constitutional [education] provisions all disclose that the state has a compelling interest in requiring minimum standards of education to insure adequate education of the children of the state to enable them to be viable citizens in the community.”
In 1994, in Bismarck Public School District No. 1 v. State, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded in a 3-2 decision that the State’s school funding system did not bear a sufficiently close correspondence to the asserted goals of providing equal educational opportunity and supporting education with State funds. However, because the State constitution requires agreement of four justices to declare a statute unconstitutional, the result upheld the funding system .
The Court found that education is a fundamental right and wrote: “…the method of distributing funding for that fundamental right involves important substantive matters similar to those rights involved in cases in which we have applied the intermediate level of scrutiny. Accordingly, we analyze these equal protection claims under the intermediate level of scrutiny, and we require the distribution of funding for education to bear a close correspondence to legislative goals.”
However, the State constitution requires the agreement of four justices to declare a statute unconstitutional, and therefore North Dakota’s school funding system remained in force.
Plaintiffs in Williston Public School District No. 1 v. State in 2006 claimed that the State’s education funding system provided inadequate and disparate funding. On the eve of trial, plaintiffs agreed to stay the case based on the State’s commitment to a funding increase and a negotiation process. As a result of the negotiations, in 2007, the State passed a new funding formula that increased State education funding, and plaintiffs withdrew their lawsuit.