Supreme Court upholds procedural decision in student fee case

The Idaho Supreme Court Thursday rejected a legal claim from Russell Joki — the former West Ada school trustee who has tried to take the state to court over student fees.

The court upheld an Ada County district court decision, which narrowed the scope of the student fee case.

In October 2012, Joki filed suit against a list of would-be defendants — including the state of Idaho, the Legislature, the State Board of Education and then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. Joki also sued the West Ada School District over student fees he had paid as a grandparent. (Joki initiated the case before he was elected to the West Ada board in 2015; Joki resigned in 2016.)

Joki prevailed in lower court. In November 2015, Ada County District Judge Richard Greenwood sided with Joki, saying the fees violated Idaho’s constitutional language mandating a free, common and uniform school system. But this came only after Greenwood significantly narrowed the scope of the case, removing state institutions and officials from the proceedings.

The crux of the question before the Supreme Court had little to do with the fees, and more to do with the scope of the case in District Court.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court wrote, “Joki’s claim fell squarely within the definition of a constitutionally based educational claim because the Legislature’s duty is to provide free common schools.” But in a unanimous 5-0 opinion, the Supreme Court upheld Greenwood’s decision to remove the “state defendants,” saying Joki had failed to get District Court authorization to add these defendants.

The Supreme Court also denied Joki’s request for legal fees.

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Even though Greenwood narrowed the scope of the case, his student fee ruling has had far-reaching implications. Districts scaled back fees and back-to-school supply lists — another point of contention in the case. In January, Maria Lorcher of the Idaho Parent Teacher Association told lawmakers that the ruling has had a “disastrous” effect on districts.

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