Kansas urges court to let governor, lawmakers decide funding
Wichita State attorneys urged the Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday to allow the governor and lawmakers to decide whether schools were getting enough money, not a small number of school districts challenging in the courts a new school-funding law.
The state argued in a lengthy legal filing that the issue of school funding — which has been locked in legal disputes for years — should be left to elected officials and not legal fights in courtrooms. But attorneys said that if the court decides to rule on the issue, justices should be convinced that funding is constitutionally sufficient based on evidence that suggests students are excelling.
The high court is considering the case after a lower court invalidated key parts of a school funding law enacted by the Republican-dominated Legislature this year. A lower-court panel sided with the school districts that sued to block the law, which ended up cutting aid that all districts expected to receive in the 2014-2015 school year to help the state balance its overall budget.
The state was ordered to immediately increase aid to public schools by roughly $50 million, but the Supreme Court put that order on hold in June while it considered the state's appeal.
In a 92-page filing, Attorney General Derek Schmidt contended that the Supreme Court should not allow a small number of school districts to second-guess the Legislature's judgment. The filing cites student performance and graduation data, and says Kansas has made "steady improvement" in assessment test scores for all students in the past 10 years.
"Particularly in light of the overwhelming evidence that Kansas students are excelling, the Legislature reasonably concluded that it has made suitable provision for the financing of the State's educational interest," Schmidt said in the filing. "It's bold and ongoing actions toward reforming the school funding system are reasonably calculated to ensure continued compliance."
Alan Rupe, one of the attorneys representing the four school districts that sued, said the state's contention that the issue is a political question — and not one for the courts — has already been rejected.
"The end result is that the court will remind them what we all learned in eighth grade: That there are three branches of government and not two," Rupe said Tuesday.
The school districts sued the state in 2010, and legislators boosted aid to poor districts last year to meet a Kansas Supreme Court mandate in the case. But the high court returned the case to the lower court to review additional legal issues. The latest court filings and proceedings are a continuation of that litigation.
The new school funding law, which took effect in April, scrapped the old per-student formula for distributing aid and replaced it with grants for each district's funding through the 2016-17 school year.
But because of a state budget shortfall in the wake of deep income-tax cuts in 2012 and 2013, the new law ended up cutting aid that all districts expected to receive during the 2014-15 school year by roughly $50 million.