Kansas wants mediator to help resolve school funding dispute

Kansas is trying to dodge a showdown at the state Supreme Court over whether it should be forced to pump hundreds of millions of dollars more into schools.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Thursday requested that a mediator resolve the dispute with a coalition of 54 school districts that claim the state didn’t live up to its commitment to fund education.

He also asked the court to delay a court order demanding the state put an estimated $500 million more into schools starting July 1.

The state needs to get the order delayed or face the potential of a messy legislative session already complicated by Gov. Sam Brownback’s efforts to cut income taxes even deeper.

Without the stay, the state would have to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars at the same time revenue is expected to plummet because of income tax cuts signed into law last year.

Alan Rupe, the attorney for the school districts, said his clients adamantly oppose delaying the court order. But he said they would welcome ways to resolve the dispute.

Schmidt filed the requests with the Kansas Supreme Court at the behest of Brownback.

Last month, a three-judge panel in Topeka ruled that state funding for schools didn’t pass constitutional muster.

The judges found that that since 2009 the Kansas Legislature — in concert with Brownback and his predecessor — cut school spending in violation of the constitutional requirement to provide “suitable” financing for education.

The judges said the state needs to bring annual state base aid to the legally required level of $4,492 per student, up from the current level of $3,838.