TOPEKA The Kansas Supreme Court will consider keeping Kansas schools closed because legislators have failed to comply with the court's demand for additional money for public schools.
The court today issued an order telling attorneys in a pending school finance lawsuit to appear for a hearing at 9 a.m. next Friday. The justices had ordered legislators to provide an additional $143 million no later than July 1.
"Specifically, counsel should demonstrate why this court should not enter an order enjoining the expenditure and distribution of any funds for the operation of Kansas schools pending the Legislature's compliance," the court said in a two-page order signed by Chief Justice Kay McFarland.
The order was the latest development in a lawsuit filed in 1999 by parents and administrators in Dodge City and Salina, who argued the state didn't spend enough money on schools and distributed its aid unfairly.
The court ruled in January that legislators had failed to fulfill a constitutional duty to finance a suitable education for every child, then followed up with the ruling demanding additional money, issued June 3.
The court acted on the 11th day of a legislative special session called by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to answer the court's demand for more money. Some legislators wanted to approve changes in the state constitution to limit the court's power, and an impasse over that issue held up passage of an education funding bill.
The threat of the court cutting off money for schools had hung over the special session. Withholding funds would in turn keep 445,000 students and 64,000 teachers and staff from returning to the classroom when the new school year starts in August.
The court's order suggested it could even block spending on bond payments, leases and other financial obligations.
Some legislators were stunned.
"This was the nuclear option," said Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood. "These justices are obviously on a fast track. They're not fiddling around with procedure. They're moving full steam ahead."
Attorney General Phill Kline urged parents not to panic about the possibility that the start of the new school year would be delayed.
"This office will continue to do all within its power that is legal and responsible to ensure that schools open," he said during a news conference.
Kline noted that he was working with State Board of Education members to funnel funds already appropriated to school districts, so that their distribution can't be blocked. The board plans to meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
But Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt said the order gave legislators a final chance to approve a school finance bill and meet the judicial mandate.
"The key here is the court showed respect for the Legislature, and now the Legislature needs to show respect for the court," said Schmidt, R-Independence. "There's no reason to wait. We know what the choices are. We need to pass a school finance bill."
Many legislators still held out hope that the state's highest court would respond favorably if they approved an education funding bill after the midnight deadline, which the court had refused to extend.
Legislators decided early today to keep trying to broker a deal on funding schools and ending an impasse over amending the Kansas Constitution to limit the judiciary's power.
Negotiators from the House and Senate worked on a compromise, $148.5 million package, and legislative leaders hoped to debate late Saturday afternoon.
The court's order came during a break in the business of the special session, and many legislators watched as court spokesman Ron Keefover had a news conference in front of the Kansas Judicial Center, where the justices have their offices.
In its order, the court said issuing a further order would be a "traditional judicial remedy" that "clearly respects the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches."
Many Republican legislators, particularly conservatives, believed the court overstepped its constitutional authority by telling legislators exactly how much to spend on schools.
Vratil, an attorney who was involved in school finance litigation himself in the 1990s, said the court and legislators were waging a "head-butting contest."
"With each response, they seem to be upping the ante, and that's not what this case is about," Vratil said.
More about school finance
- Webcast of live arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court (requires Windows Media Player)
- Brief of the Montoy suit (.pdf)
- Timeline of events in school finance lawsuit
- 6News video: School finance bill to face court
- Plaintiffs: School finance bill fails grade (06-13-06)
- State wants high court to dismiss school suit (06-02-06)
- Legislature approves school finance plan (05-10-06)
- Chat with Bob Corkins, Kansas Education Commissioner (02-02-06)
- House roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan (07-07-05)
- Supt. Weseman's contingency plan (07-06-05)
- More about school finance »
- Conference Committee on Senate Bill 549
- House bill info
- Senate bill info
- Kansas public schools cost study
- Kansas public schools cost study executive summary
- Public Education Finances 2004 (.pdf)
- Senate roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan
- Supreme Court's Show Cause Order (07-02-05)
- Supreme Court's Order Denying Extension (.pdf)
- Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
- Supplemental Note on Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)