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Archive for Friday, July 29, 2005

Kline: Blocking ‘Sweet 17’ relief denies state republican government

July 29, 2005

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— By blocking extra help for "Sweet 17" school districts, the Kansas Supreme Court is denying the state a republican form of government, Atty. Gen. Phill Kline argues in legal documents.

The "Sweet 17" districts have higher-than-average housing costs. Earlier this year, legislators approved additional authority for those districts to raise local property taxes to supplement state funds - authority denied the state's 283 other districts.

The Supreme Court put that provision on hold in a June ruling on education funding. Kline filed a request Wednesday with the court, asking it to lift its stay.

"I don't think it stands a chance," Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman said. "It didn't play in the first round. I don't know why it'd play in the second."

In his request, Kline noted that the U.S. Constitution guarantees each state a republican government in which the separation of power between the judiciary and legislative branch is a given. Blocking relief to the "Sweet 17" removes a policy decision from elected representatives, Kline said.

"A failure of this court to lift the stay on all provisions would have the effect of neutralizing and nullifying legislative control of the K-12 school system," Kline wrote.

It's not the first time Kline has made such a statement. In May, before the court ruled, the attorney general said the justices would create a "benevolent dictatorship" over education if they appointed a special master to oversee education funding, a step the court has so far declined to take.

In his request, Kline criticized the court, saying it considered no evidence about the "Sweet 17" provision, nor did it explain its reasons for blocking it.

In a separate statement, Kline said he is fighting to preserve local control of schools.

"Investing locally in education has been a right since statehood," Kline said.

The "Sweet 17" provision is designed to compensate those districts for having to pay teachers higher salaries because of housing costs. School officials and legislators argue that teachers can't afford to live in the districts where they teach.

But the court said - although it mentioned it only in passing - that the provision makes the state's school funding system less fair because it aids wealthy districts without providing relief to poorer ones.

The court sided with parents and administrators in Dodge City and Salina, who sued the state in 1999. Alan Rupe, their lead attorney, said he would fight Kline's request.

"Lifting that stay would be some sort of indication that we have achieved equity, and we are miles from that," Rupe said.

If the court allows the provision to take effect, Rupe said, "The rich get richer and the poor stay the same."

The case is Monday et al. v. State of Kansas, et al., No. 92,032.

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