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Shelby County Schools accuses state of withholding funds from students in impoverished areas

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MEMPHIS, Tennessee — The Shelby County Board of Education is suing the state of Tennessee, accusing it of failing to fully fund the county's public schools and forcing students from impoverished areas to cope with overcrowded classrooms.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Davidson County, multiple media outlets report. According to the complaint, the state has withheld funds and disproportionately hurt children in impoverished areas.

The lawsuit highlights hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts the board was forced to make over the past several years, leading to what it says are increased class sizes, fewer teachers, deteriorating facilities and poor-performing schools.

"This is an unprecedented move for the district, but we feel it is the right thing to do to ensure we can provide a solid, adequate, quality education for all our children," school board chairwoman Teresa Jones told The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/1UoUUGP).

The board is seeking a judgment that the funding level is unconstitutional, as well as reimbursement for legal costs.

Board attorney Valerie Spekman said the lawsuit's goal is to change the formula used to determine public school allocations. Shelby County school officials have said in the past that if the district were to get what the formula says it is entitled to receive, they would get $103 million more per year.

Board member Chris Caldwell said officials are committed to following through with the lawsuit.

"The suggestion that SCS or any school district in the state of Tennessee should accept this and should sacrifice a generation of students because the state of Tennessee has failed to fulfill its constitutional responsibility is unacceptable," he said.

A state attorney general's office spokesperson said the office was reviewing the complaint.

The Shelby County board is not the first district in the state to sue over this issue. In March, Hamilton County and school boards in six smaller systems jointly sued the state.

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