Danedri Thompson
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Attorneys for Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF), a lobbying group that successfully sued for additional school funding in 2006, has filed a new lawsuit against the state. The group, which includes Gardner Edgerton USD 231, alleges that Kansas public schools are not being funded adequately and are denying Kansas children the right to an education.
The case was filed in Shawnee District Court in Topeka. Chief Judge of the Kansas Court of Appeals, Gary Rulon, will assign a three-judge panel to hear the case.
The lawsuit does not ask that Kansas’ existing school finance formula be scrapped, however, John Robb, one of the two attorneys representing SFFF, said in a press release that the current formula needs to be fully funded.
“Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The formula doesn’t need to be abandoned in some smoke and mirrors, illusory change. No formula will work if it is not adequately funded,” Robb said.
Attorneys filed the suit on Nov. 2, but Robb said there was no ulterior motive behind an election day filing. By state statute, the organization could not file a suit against the state legislature without issuing notice and waiting a prescribed number of days.
SFFF filed notice of intent to sue in June, and the filing deadline passed on Oct. 15.
“It then took just a certain amount of time to get it in the right form to get it filed,” he said.
The suit specifically alleges that four Kansas school districts – Wichita, Kansas City, Hutchinson and Dodge City – and 32 representative students within them are being denied an adequate education.
Only four districts are listed in the actual lawsuit, but there are 63 Kansas school districts funding the lawsuit. In 2010, each of the 63 districts, paid dues to SFFF of $3.20 per student. For the GE District, that translated into approximately $16,000 in membership fees.
That money will be used to finance the lawsuit. So far, SFFF funds have been used to pay the attorneys’ hourly rates.
Robb said he would hate to hazard an estimate of the number of attorney hours he’s billed in the case. He charges $175 per hour. Alan Rupe, the other lead attorney on the case charges more. Associate attorneys charge less.
“It’s been substantial,” Robb said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of groundwork in getting the suit to this point. The facts in an education lawsuit – it’s not a single fact like in an accident where the facts are kind of limited…You have to deal with school funding, pupil weighting, mill levies, property taxes, student achievements, harmed students. It’s been an ongoing effort for a couple of years. That will continue. That’s part of what makes these very costly lawsuits, because they cover boxes and boxes and boxes of data.”
The 2006 lawsuit filed by the organization was settled in 2006. That year, the legislature adopted a three-year school funding plan that gradually bumped school funding up statewide by $775 million.
However, state legislators have since cut $303 million in school funding.
According to Robb, state legislator intentionally cut state revenues and then plead poverty.
“This trainwreck was certainly foreseeable,” he said in a press release.
Rupe said Kansas school children should not have to go to court every few years for adequate funding.
“Our kids’ future is too important to sit back while the state chronically underfunds the schools,” Rupe said. “Litigation has been responsible for every other increase in school funding, and it looks like, unfortunately, it is necessary again.”