Districts argue Kansas shorts schools $1.5 billion
TOPEKA, Kan. — School districts suing Kansas over education funding argue that an increase approved by legislators this year is as much as $1.5 billion short of what’s needed for the next school year. They are asking the state Supreme Court to order lawmakers to provide more money by Sept. 1.
The four school districts’ attorneys detailed their objections to a new school finance law in written arguments filed ahead of a Supreme Court hearing July 18. The new law phases in a $293 million increase in aid to public schools over two years and will remain in effect while the state justices review it. The law also creates a per-pupil funding formula.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office contends that the increase is sufficient for legislators to fulfill their duty under the state constitution to finance a suitable education for every child. The new law fully funds all-day kindergarten classes across the state and provides more money for programs to help low-performing students.
But the school districts’ lawyers note that the state Board of Education proposed phasing in an $893 million increase in aid over two years. The lawyers argued that past studies of educational costs suggest a boost of as much as $1.7 billion for the next school year alone. Those figures mean the actual increase approved by lawmakers is “not even close” to what’s needed, they said in their arguments.
“We’ve let too many kids fall by the wayside in an inadequately funded system to tolerate too much more time,” Alan Rupe, the school districts’ lead attorney, said in an interview.
The Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kan., school districts sued the state in 2010. The state Supreme Court ruled in March that the state’s $4 billion a year in annual aid is inadequate and ordered lawmakers to enact a new school funding law. The court said it was especially concerned with helping low-achieving students.
The mandate came as the state faced budget problems, and legislators enacted an income tax increase over Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto. That measure will raise $1.2 billion over two years. If the Supreme Court sides with the districts, lawmakers would have to consider another big tax increase during a special session this summer.
Former state Sen. Jeff King, an attorney hired by legislative leaders to advise lawmakers, said giving the districts what they seek “would have catastrophic consequences on taxpayers and the rest of state government.”