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Archive for Saturday, January 25, 2003

School finance lawsuit restored

Suit claims state spends too little on education

January 25, 2003

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— A 1999 lawsuit challenging the state's school finance law was reinstated Friday by the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled that a lower court dismissed the case prematurely.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of families and administrators in the Dodge City and Salina districts, now returns to Shawnee County District Court. The plaintiffs say the 1992 law under which the state calculates and distributes aid to elementary and secondary schools -- about $2.3 billion a year -- is constitutionally flawed.

Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock dismissed the case at the state's behest in November 2001, just days before it was to go to trial.

Noting that the school finance law had been upheld in 1994, Bullock agreed with the state's attorneys that the plaintiffs had failed to raise any new issues.

But in its unanimous ruling Friday, the Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs that Bullock had not considered their case in full and rejected it while they were still gathering evidence.

"Justice works," Alan Rupe, the plaintiffs' attorney, said Friday from his Wichita office. "The plaintiff kids and school districts will get their day in court."

Attorney Dan Biles, who represented the state Board of Education in the case, said he was not surprised by Friday's ruling.

"I kind of expected it, based on the justices' questions during arguments," Biles said. "Basically, it's a procedural ruling and the finance law hasn't been terribly disturbed."

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius told reporters, "I think the school finance formula is likely to be revisited on all kinds of grounds."

At the heart of the lawsuit is the plaintiffs' contention that Kansas spends too little on public schools to satisfy the state constitution, which states, "The Legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state."

State aid to elementary and secondary schools now stands at $3,867 per pupil. A consultants' study commissioned by the Legislature concluded last year the state should spend $4,650 per pupil, or an additional $450 million per year.

Separately, the state Board of Education has endorsed the concept of raising state aid by $1.8 billion over the next three years to improve teacher salaries and student achievement.

In the Supreme Court's opinion, Justice Robert Davis wrote: "There is a point where the Legislature's funding of education may be so low that regardless of what the state says about accreditation, it would be impossible to find that the Legislature has made 'suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state."'

Bullock, therefore, must rule whether the state is fulfilling its obligations to fund education, Davis wrote.

The Salina and Dodge City districts and their students and parents raised the issue of discrimination against minorities in a separate lawsuit that is pending in U.S. District Court in Wichita.

The case is Eric and Ryan Montoy et al. v. State of Kansas, No.88,440.

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