Archive for Thursday, May 19, 2005

Law professors predict school finance compromise

May 19, 2005


Two Kansas University law professors said they expected the Kansas Supreme Court would seek a middle-of-the-road solution to the current school finance lawsuit.

"The court is likely to be somewhat practical and phase in a solution over time," predicted Sandra McKenzie, who teaches local government law.

Richard Levy, a constitutional law professor, agreed.

"I don't think the court wants a showdown," he said.

At issue is the way Kansas funds public schools. In January, the state Supreme Court said the Legislature failed its constitutional responsibility to provide suitable finance for schools and called for increased funding and a fairer method to distribute those funds.

Republicans, who control the Legislature, adopted a $142 million increase and gave local districts the option to raise what could amount to nearly $500 million in additional property taxes.

Critics said the state increase fell far short of a consultant's report that called for an additional $1 billion per year to assure all students receive a suitable education and that the local tax option further widens the gap between wealthy and poor school districts.

The various sides last week appeared before the court for arguments. The court gave no indication when it would rule.

Count McKenzie and Levy among the critics of the legislation now being weighed by the court.

"I can't see the court being pleased with this solution," McKenzie said.

She said the court had told lawmakers to fund schools based on the cost of education and not politics. Another negative aspect of the legislative plan, she said, is that it provides increased state funding for only one year and fails to dedicate funds in succeeding years.

While also critical of the legislative plan, Levy said the court must "walk a tightrope" between providing the Legislature with a target but not mandating tax increases.

He said he doubted the court would order the $1 billion increase sought by the school districts that successfully sued the state because the figure is based on a consultant's report.

A face-saving option, he said, would be to accept the arguments of the State Board of Education.

The board asked the court to allow the $142 million increase, overturn the greater use of local option tax increases and give the Legislature until next year to compose a study on the cost of education, and then hold them to that study.

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