Plaintiffs: Students left behind under school-finance system

Attorney argues state fails nearly half of Kansas' children

? The system for funding Kansas’ public schools remains “blatantly unconstitutional,” as a judge ruled in December, attorneys for parents and school administrators suing the state over the finance formula argued Tuesday in documents filed with the state Supreme Court.

Attorneys for parents and administrators in the Dodge City and Salina school districts said the $2.7 billion appropriated by legislators for public schools fails to meet the needs of a majority of poor and minority students.

“The plaintiff’s lawsuit is about one thing and one thing only — the children of Kansas,” lead attorney Alan Rupe wrote in a 190-page brief. “While maybe half the students in the state are able to make the education system work for them, this lawsuit is about the rest of the children, those that are being left behind in ever increasing numbers.”

Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock ruled Dec. 2 that the school-funding system was constitutionally flawed. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the state’s appeal of that ruling on Aug. 30. A decision could come as early as October.

Attorneys for the state and the State Board of Education — both defendants in the lawsuit, filed in 1999 — submitted their documents to the Supreme Court in May, with a response to Rupe’s brief due July 30. While the defendants have acknowledged that legislators might need to revise the finance formula, they contend the state is doing a good job of educating its children.

Rupe said legislators refused to take Bullock’s ruling seriously and refused to address problems identified during an eight-day trial last year.

“Rather than fix the current school-finance inadequacies and inequities, the Legislature ‘fixed’ only the rules of appellate procedure,” wrote Rupe, in reference to a law legislators passed allowing for an expedited appeal of the case.

Tuesday’s filing came as legislators completed two days of meetings reviewing the school-finance formula. A committee of House and Senate members is meeting throughout the summer and fall in anticipation of rewriting the formula to address the Supreme Court ruling.

The last revision of the school-finance formula came in 1992, also in response to a legal challenge brought by many of the school districts involved in the current case. While only Dodge City and Salina are part of the current lawsuit, other districts are helping pay for the litigation.

The Supreme Court upheld the formula as constitutional in 1994.

However, Rupe said many changes have occurred since then, including disparities in spending for districts with a high percentage of students with limited English language skills.

In addition, expectations for schools have changed, and it is no longer acceptable that some students will fail, Rupe wrote.