April 23, 2014

Supreme Court hears school funding case

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com
It’s now in the hands of the Kansas Supreme Court.
Attorneys for the state of Kansas argued that the state legislature, not the court system, should determine school funding. Lawyers for several school districts, including Gardner-Edgerton USD 231, said the courts must step in, because Kansas public schools aren’t funded suitably as required by the Kansas Constitution.
Arguments before the Supreme Court on Oct. 8 were a final step in a lengthy legal battle between Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF), a group comprised of more than 30 Kansas school districts, and the Kansas Legislature.
“What’s going on may not be perfect, but it’s not unconstitutional,” Stephen McAllister, attorney for the legislature, told Supreme Court justices.
Alan Rupe, SFFF’s lawyer, said lawmakers can’t be trusted to suitably fund Kansas public schools.
“I don’t frankly trust the Legislature to fund education or keep their promises,” he told the court.
A three-judge panel determined earlier this year that school funding in Kansas is not adequate. Those justices ordered state legislators to increase base state aid per pupil from the current $3,838 per weighted student to $4,492. The state appealed to the Supreme Court.
In 2006, legislators and SFFF agreed with the help of a legislative audit that $4,492 per weighted student equaled adequate funding, and lawmakers drafted a plan to incrementally fund up to that amount over the course of a few years. However, lawmakers cut back to the present amount following the 2008 recession.
The suit names school districts in Wichita, Kansas City, Kan., and Dodge City as plaintiffs in the case, although USD 231 and other schools are helping to fund the suit through membership in SFFF. The district paid more than $12,000 in membership fees in 2010. The Gardner Edgerton School District is the sole Johnson County district in SFFF, however there are more than three dozen districts across the state involved.
The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case sometime in January.

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