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Kansas tells court broad support is reason to OK schools law

April 16, 2019
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FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2015, file photo, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt talks to lawmakers at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Schmidt's office filed legal arguments Monday, April 15, 2019 defending a new public school funding law. It increases education funding by roughly $90 million a year. (Thad Allton/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP, File)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Lawyers for Kansas told the state Supreme Court on Monday that it should sign off on a new law boosting spending on public schools and end a protracted education funding lawsuit partly because the law has broad, bipartisan support.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, filed written legal arguments defending the new law. It contains Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposal for an education funding increase of roughly $90 million a year and is aimed at satisfying a state Supreme Court ruling last year that education funding remained inadequate.

Four school districts sued the state in 2010, and their attorneys have said that the new law does not provide enough additional funding after the 2019-20 school year. Schmidt said the districts are seeking a “heckler’s veto” after Kelly, many Republican lawmakers and the GOP-led State Board of Education agreed that the increase she sought would satisfy the court.

“This court should give great weight to the considered decisions of both the education officials and the people’s representatives,” Schmidt’s written argument said. “That is particularly true here given the widespread, bipartisan consensus.”

Attorneys for the four school districts asked in their own filing for the Supreme Court to order higher spending after the 2019-20 school year, give legislators another year to comply and keep the case open so that the state’s actions can be monitored.

“The state cannot demonstrate it has met its burden,” they wrote.

The Supreme Court plans to hear oral arguments from both sides’ attorneys May 9 and has promised to rule on whether the new law is sufficient by June 30. The justices have ruled repeatedly that the state constitution requires lawmakers to fund a suitable education for every child.

The high court has issued six rulings directing lawmakers to increase education funding in a little more than five years, so that it now tops $4 billion a year. The court declared last year that a 2018 law promising funding increases into the future wasn’t sufficient because it hadn’t accounted for inflation.

The four school districts argued that accounting for inflation is a straightforward math problem that requires increasingly larger amounts of money each year through the 2022-23 school year. Under their calculations, the increase for that year would be $363 million instead of the roughly $90 million under the new law.

“While the state has increased funding to account for some inflation, it has not completed the plan,” the school districts’ attorneys wrote.

Schmidt’s filing argues that given that the new law represents the consensus of “just about every other stakeholder” in the education funding debate, the court should not declare the law insufficient simply because some districts “will always want more money.” The four districts are part of a coalition that initially endorsed Kelly’s plan , then withdrew its backing.

“They should not be allowed to single-handedly override the governor’s and Legislature’s reasonable and considered funding determinations,” Schmidt wrote, adding that the law was passed “in light of the many competing demands on limited state funds.”

Kelly’s chief counsel also filed a request Monday with the Supreme Court, asking for permission to file “friend of the court” arguments by April 26. Her attorney argued that as a former state senator “intimately familiar” with school funding issues, she has a “unique” perspective on the law now that she is governor.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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