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Archive for Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Supreme Court may issue school funding ruling

November 30, 2004

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— The Kansas Supreme Court could rule as soon as Friday on the constitutionality of the state's school funding system, potentially ending a courthouse battle that at one point led a district judge to order the state's public schools closed.

But even when the high court offers its opinion, the decision is likely only to shift the debate to the Legislature and the governor's office.

The justices first heard arguments in the case Aug. 30, but no one on either side is begrudging the court taking its time. Dan Biles, an attorney for the State Board of Education, said a decision that examined every aspect of the case was preferred so the court's rationale could "stand the test of time."

The seven justices are considering the state's appeal of a Shawnee County District Court ruling, issued in December 2003, in which Judge Terry Bullock declared the state's school funding system unconstitutional and gave legislators until July 1 to fix the problems.

Despite considering dozens of spending proposals, legislators responded only by passing a law that expedited an appeal of Bullock's order to the Supreme Court. Bullock responded days after the 2004 Legislature adjourned by ordering schools closed starting July 1.

The high court blocked the closing of schools before hearing the case in August. Legislators have been looking for a ruling to arrive before the start of the next legislative term in January. Anticipation has been building in recent weeks that an opinion would be issued Friday, the court's next scheduled day to release opinions.

"I think they will rule before the start of the legislative session," said Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, whose office represented the state in the case.

Kline said because schools were in session and were being funded by current law, the ruling would not have an effect on this academic year. Delaying the opinion only shortens the window for legislators and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to respond to the ruling before the 90-day legislative session ends in May.

Sebelius, who has asked Standard & Poor's to audit school district expenditures, said the case warranted as much time as needed.

"The court has expedited this case, and we understand they are working very diligently to reach a decision," she said.

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