Dis­tricts ar­gue Kansas shorts schools $1.5 bil­lion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL -

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.”

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