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Kansas high court: School funding unconstitutional

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 7, 2014 at 5:31 pm •  Published: March 7, 2014

"We need to grow the number of people working in this state," Brownback said.

John Robb, an attorney for the plaintiffs, saw Friday's ruling as a victory because the justices rejected the state's arguments that the funding issue was political, to be determined solely by the Legislature and governor.

He predicted that after the next round of lower-court hearings, the outcome will mirror what happened previously: An order for the state to increase its total annual spending on schools by at least $440 million.

David Morantz, a Leawood attorney and father of three children who attend public schools, said he's glad the court is requiring lawmakers to meeting their constitutional duties but said, "It doesn't look like the fight is over."

"We, as parents and as citizens of Kansas, have to follow the constitution, and it's not too much to ask, for them to do it, too," he said.

But Republican officials believe the lower court's review is tilted more in the Legislature's favor.

"The order that came down this morning didn't give either side everything it asked for," said Attorney General Derek Schmidt, also a Republican. "Essentially, the court adopted a middle ground."

The Supreme Court sent the case back to district court for more review to "promptly" determine what the adequate amount of funding should be, but didn't set a deadline for a hearing.

A state Department of Education official estimated the cost of meeting the court's directives on aid to poor districts at $129 million annually, in addition to the more than $3 billion the state has budgeted for the 2014-2015 school year. Schmidt and top legislators said the decision allows them to consider alternatives instead of adding all of the funds to soon-to-be-debated budget legislation.

Kansas cut its annual base aid to schools by $386 million over several years as tax revenues declined during the Great Recession, although it did cover some rising costs, such as teacher pensions. After the base-aid cuts, school districts trimmed their staffs, cut after-school programs and raised fees for parents. Classrooms also became more crowded.

State attorneys had said legislators did the best they could to maintain education spending among the reduced available revenues during the recession, pointing to efforts to raise the state sales tax rate in 2010 and the reliance on federal stimulus funding to keep spending stable.

A three-judge panel sided with the lawsuit's plaintiffs in January 2013. The state appealed, and the Supreme Court heard arguments in October.


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