Archive for Friday, February 6, 2004

Judge wants work to begin on fixing school finance law

February 6, 2004


— The judge who declared the Kansas school finance system unconstitutional has told sides in the case to start preparing a remedy.

In December, Shawnee County District Court Judge Terry Bullock ruled the finance method is unconstitutional because it under-funds the cost of educating all students, especially minorities.

He told lawmakers to fix the system by July 1.

But in a letter to attorneys in the case, Bullock said he wanted officials to start on plans of action now.

He told the attorneys to provide legal briefs to him on four similar lawsuits in other states, including Arkansas, New York, New Jersey and North Carolina.

In his letter, Bullock stated: "When these cases are coupled with the ones previously cited and relied upon by the Court, there is no doubt there is a strong legal trend throughout our nation to require equity of education funding and to base that funding on actual costs, not just fictitious calculations, prior expenditures, or political compromises."

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has proposed an increase in state sales, income and property taxes to fund a $304 million increase to public schools over the next three years. But Republican legislative leaders have said the state should should appeal Bullock's decision to the Kansas Supreme Court before making any sweeping changes to the system.

In his letter, Bullock told attorneys representing the school districts that won the case to provide legal briefs by March 1; with the state submitting its replies by April 1.

Bullock said if there is no response, or inadequate response "the matter of the ultimate remedy will be before us."

In another development, Republican legislative leaders want to spend up to $100,000 to retain legal counsel and other experts "to ensure that the Legislature's perspective is considered as part of the school finance proceedings."

Democrats blasted the proposal as a delaying tactic in the case, and an unnecessary expense since the facts of the school finance lawsuit are well-known.

State Sen. Christine Downey, a Democrat from Inman, said the proposal was the equivalent of saying, "We're going to find a doctor who will tell us what we want to hear."

State Sen. Steve Morris, a Republican from Hugoton, however, said hiring an attorney for the Legislature was necessary because the school finance litigation could affect budgeting and taxes "perhaps for at least the next decade."

For more on this story, pick up a copy of Saturday's Journal-World.

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