Government & Politics

June 11, 2014

Judges say Kansas school funding law meets mandate

The infusion of $129 million to poor school districts in Kansas complies with a state Supreme Court mandate, a three-judge panel rules. But the judges refuse to dismiss all claims regarding fairness of the school funding formula.

A panel of Kansas judges ruled Wednesday that a new education funding law complies with a state Supreme Court mandate to boost aid to poor public schools, but they didn’t narrow the scope of a lawsuit over whether the state is providing enough aid overall.

The three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court declined the state’s request to dismiss claims questioning the fairness of the state’s school funding formula in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by parents and school districts.

But the judges also rejected arguments from attorneys for the aggrieved school districts that uncertainty about state finances or future legislative actions raises questions about whether Kansas actually met the earlier Supreme Court mandate.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in March that recession-driven cuts in aid to poor school districts had created unconstitutional gaps in aid between them and wealthier districts and ordered lawmakers to fix that.

The high court also returned the lawsuit to the three-judge panel in Shawnee County, which had reviewed it previously, with orders to examine the Legislature’s response and consider other issues.

The GOP-dominated Legislature approved the new education law in April, increasing aid to poor school districts by $129 million during the next school year.

But it also attached policy provisions backed by conservatives, including ones ending guaranteed teacher tenure and another granting tax credits to corporations bankrolling private-school scholarships for at-risk children.

Both sides in the lawsuit agreed that the additional aid to poor districts met the Supreme Court’s mandate.

But Alan Rupe — representing the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Kansas City, Kan., and Wichita school districts — argued that legislators have a history of failing to meet promises to public schools and noted that backtracking on funding commitments, made to resolve an earlier school finance lawsuit, led to the current litigation.

Rupe also pointed out that the Kansas National Education Association is promising to file a separate lawsuit challenging conservatives’ policies in the new law.

But District Judge Franklin Theis said that even if someone challenged policies included in the law, the new funding would stand.

Theis said the panel will next consider whether the state is spending enough on schools to meet its duty under the Kansas Constitution to provide an adequate education for every child.

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