Government & Politics

Part two in Kansas school funding debate is headed to court in September

The adequacy of school funding will come front and center before the Kansas Supreme Court just a few weeks before November’s election. Oral arguments over the adequacy of funding are set to start at 9 a.m. Sept. 21.
The adequacy of school funding will come front and center before the Kansas Supreme Court just a few weeks before November’s election. Oral arguments over the adequacy of funding are set to start at 9 a.m. Sept. 21.

The school finance debate in Kansas will pick up again in September.

The adequacy of school funding will come front and center before the Kansas Supreme Court just a few weeks before November’s election. Oral arguments over the adequacy of funding are set to start at 9 a.m. Sept. 21.

Kansas City, Kan., is one of the school districts suing Kansas over the amount of money that school districts receive from the state. Wichita, Dodge City and Hutchinson are the others. The adequacy portion of the lawsuit addresses hundreds of millions of dollars in school funding, said Alan Rupe, one of the attorneys representing the schools in the case.

“Every school district currently struggles given the increasing demands because of demographic changes and the increasing demands of $511 million in cuts,” Rupe said. “Everybody struggles with that.”

State lawmakers gathered in Topeka last month to address the equity portion of the litigation. The solution was a bill that totaled $38 million in funding to help poorer school districts. That legislation passed the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support on the second night of the special session. The equity solution came just days before a June 30 deadline set by the court. Had the lawmakers’ solution not satisfied the court, schools could have closed.

It’s unclear when the court could rule on the adequacy portion of the case.

“Kansas has great schools, which are funded at a record level of $4 billion,” Eileen Hawley, Gov. Sam Brownback’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This amount of funding is constitutionally appropriated by the Kansas Legislature, and I will not speculate about any outcome at the court.”

The adequacy arguments comes ahead of the Nov. 8 election, where five of the state’s Supreme Court justices will be up for retention.

“The timing of the scheduled arguments yet again demonstrates the court’s desperate political motivations,” House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, said in a statement. “Their goal is to redirect the attention of Kansans away from the court’s embarrassing number of overturned opinions, such as in the brutal Carr brothers case, and their upcoming retention elections.”

The school case, Gannon vs. Kansas, started in 2010. In the years since, lawmakers got rid of the state’s old school finance formula in favor of a block grant system. A new school funding system is expected to be discussed by legislators next year.

Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican, said she hopes there will be a ruling in the case by the time the Legislature starts up again in January.

“We’ve waited quite a long time to get to this phase of the lawsuit,” Rooker said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction towards ultimate resolution, one way or another.”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

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