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Archive for Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Court deadlines approach in school-finance case

March 30, 2004

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— A district judge's order declaring the state's school finance formula unconstitutional is moving closer to a review by the Kansas Supreme Court, but the judge does not consider himself done with the case.

Attorneys for the state last week filed documents with the Supreme Court outlining their main points on appeal of December's preliminary order by Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock.

Bullock, ruling in a 1999 case from the Dodge City and Salina districts, found flaws both in the state's method of raising revenue for schools and in the way the state apportions the approximately $2.6 billion in aid among districts. He gave the state until July 1 to, as he wrote in one document, "JUST GO FIX IT!"

The Supreme Court on Friday asked that a transcript of last fall's eight-day trial in the case be filed by May 5. The state's attorneys will have to submit written arguments by June 5.

Justices were obligated to take the appeal under a law enacted this year requiring the Supreme Court to review any lower court decision that holds the school-finance law unconstitutional.

Supreme Court spokesman Ron Keefover said Monday that if all deadlines were met and no extensions were sought by attorneys for the state or school districts, the case could be set for argument before the justices the week of Sept. 2.

Meanwhile, Bullock remains on his own schedule. He wrote March 23 that his goal of making his preliminary order final as of July stands, unless the Supreme Court tells him that the case is out of his hands.

The next deadline set by Bullock is Thursday, when written arguments from the defendants are due on what remedy Bullock should impose in his final order.

"The courts have set that deadline so we're abiding by that schedule," said Whitney Watson, spokesman for Atty. Gen. Phill Kline.

Alan Rupe, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, filed documents with the district court March 1 outlining a proposed remedy, including giving legislators until December to make changes in the school-finance law.

Rupe also suggested appointment of special masters to oversee legislative progress on a new finance formula. Plaintiffs have suggested that the state must increase funding by as much as $1 billion -- an amount recommended in a 2001 report by a private consulting group.

Last week, the House endorsed two spending proposals. One would increase school funding with $155 million in state dollars and up to $120 million in local property taxes. The other would be worth $28 million in state dollars and up to $23.5 million in property taxes in 16 high cost-of-living districts.

The Senate has rejected efforts to increase spending, though Republican leaders have said they plan to keep working on a package.

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