School districts argue Kansas needs to boost aid up to $1.5B
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — 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 and are asking the state Supreme Court to order lawmakers to provide more money by Sept. 1.
The four local 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 justices review it. It also creates a new per-pupil funding formula.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office contends 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 and 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 make the actual increase approved by lawmakers “not even close,” 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 districts’ lead attorney, said during an interview.
The Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts sued the state in 2010. The 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 to 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.”
King and Republican legislators who back the new law contend it complies with the state constitution. King noted that it provides more aid per student than the average spending in 41 districts where students perform better than expected, based on demographics and State Board of Education data.
“This wasn’t something the Legislature made up,” King said.
The school districts’ calculations are based on studies on the cost of a suitable education by state auditors and others from a previous round of education funding litigation more than a decade ago, with the figures adjusted upward for inflation.
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