Archive for Friday, July 28, 2006

Supreme Court dismisses school financing lawsuit

July 28, 2006, 9:53 a.m. Updated July 28, 2006, 2:39 p.m.


— The Kansas Supreme Court today dismissed the landmark school finance case, saying the Legislature had fixed inequities in the state's system for funding public schools.

In an unprecedented announcement before releasing the opinion, Chief Justice Kay McFarland stated: "This case is not about winners and losers -- it is about the children of Kansas.

"They will be better educated and better prepared to meet the challenges of our rapidly changing society. Kansas will be the ultimate beneficiary."

The court split 4-2 with two justices Carol Beier and Marla Luckert saying they would have allowed the new school finance law to take effect for this school year, but would have ordered that an education cost study done for the Legislature be analyzed by a state district court.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and lawmakers sighed relief once the decision was announced.

"This ruling is good news for Kansas and a welcome resolution to this case," Sebelius said.

"I'm relieved; somewhat surprised," said House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, who has been a vocal critic of the court over its previous rulings in the case.

The school finance lawsuit has been the No. 1 political issue before the Legislature the past two years.

Audio Clips
Attorney General Phill Kline on the Supreme Court decision

At stake in the case was the $3.1 billion funding method that supports the 450,000-student public school system.

In 2005, the state Supreme Court declared the system unconstitutional because it shortchanged all students, especially schools in districts with high proportions of low-income students. Some of those districts brought the lawsuit in 1999.

The court accepted a $290 million increase after a contentious special legislative session, as a down payment pending outcome of a study showing the actual costs of an adequate education.

That study done by the Legislative Division of Post Audit recommended a $400 million increase for the next school year.

In May, the Legislature approved a $466 million increase, but stretched that over three years with the first-year increase totaling $194.5 million. That measure, called Senate Bill 549, was argued before the court in June.

But today, the court sidestepped questions about the constitutionality of SB 549.

The 4-2 majority said the $756 million in additional funds over the past two years constituted "substantial compliance with our prior orders."

The court added; "A constitutional challenge of SB 549 must wait for another day."

That logic angered advocates for more school funding.

"It's like the court decided to evade making a decision instead of making one," said John Martellaro, with Kansas Families United for Public Education. "By not ruling on the constitutionality of (SB) 549, they have invited the parties to drag this all the way through the courts again, which is disappointing.

"I had hoped for greater resolution than what we got," he said.

Alan Rupe, an attorney representing the plaintiff school districts, said he had to speak with his clients before deciding what the next move would be.

But Rupe said he respected the court's decision and that "it's hard to be disappointed in looking back in what we accomplished."

He said significant sums of monies have been directed toward "the kids that need the most to educate."

Dan Biles, an attorney representing the State Board of Education, noted that the fight over equitable funding for public education may not be over.

Rupe had filed a similar lawsuit in federal court in Wichita before U.S. District Court Judge Monti Belot. Action in that case has been held back pending outcome of the state lawsuit.

"I think the focus will turn to Wichita and the federal court there to see what the parties and what Judge Belot wants to do with the claims in that case," Biles said. Rupe declined to say what, if anything, would happen with the federal lawsuit.

Biles added, "All you can say is that for right now with this bill in this situation, we're done."


Wilbur_Nether 11 years, 11 months ago

MWIV mwondered "Why is $756 million enough?" to which the answer is that $756 million is substantial compliance according to the KS SC. Who defined "suitable provision" as based on actual cost in opposition to political expediency. If you want to know next year if $756M is still enough, file a new suit because getting a ruling is how you'll find out. And again, I have no dog, as the expression goes, in this fight. I am neither an attorney nor an educator nor an educational administrator nor an educational lobbyist. (I'm sure there exists some arm of education I have overlooked--to save time, let me disclose that I am not one of those, either.) I haven't answered the $1B/year question because it is exaggerated, extreme, hypothetical, and appears on its surface to be an apagogical argument.

Oh, and Pilgrim, you assumed a false premise in your logical proof. Can you find it?

bmwjhawk 11 years, 11 months ago

Interesting stuff. As a strict devotee of Supreme Court decisions, I'm going to go about my life making "good faith efforts" to be nice.

Jayhawk226 11 years, 11 months ago

Alrighty...let's get down to business now.

Schools open in 2-3 weeks and my darn district can now finalize its budget.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 11 months ago

Aug 16, 17th here in town but I do not see any thing going to be diff. than last year alot of wated time and money for what? is still gonna be same ol same ol. oh well at least the schools will be open.

greyhawk 11 years, 11 months ago

Okay, now the KS Legislature can get back to its real business--infighting, bickering, and running for office.
The KS Supreme Court can hope the outcry over the Nuss Fuss diminishes to a whimper. Schools can get back to figuring out how to balance their budgets and pay for increased utility bills.
And the public can get back to figuring out how to pay for it all.

Jersey_Girl 11 years, 11 months ago

I'm sorry, but how many times do our bosses say, "Oh, well it was a good faith effort on our company budget!" Um, never!

Bobo Fleming 11 years, 11 months ago

Oh great joy, oh rapture, o thank you to the Court for allowing us have school again. We are now better and better for it. The Court can go back onto the temple atop the mountain until some time when we get ourselves in trouble again and they can come down off the mountain and gaze at us and hand down a decree.

Sigmund 11 years, 11 months ago

It could have been so much worse. All you have to do is look and KCMO's experience with Courts setting school budgets. They got higher taxes, but not higher education. Students, teachers, taxpayers, everyone was a loser!

rhd99 11 years, 11 months ago

The more I think about it, WHY did it take the REPUBLICAN majority in Topeka to get it right? They got it right, THIS time, but their time is running out FAST. REPUBLICANS, WE the voters are watching YOU! You GOP candidates for Governor, GOOOOOD LUCK trying to beat Governor Seblius, you LOSERS!

MWIV 11 years, 11 months ago

It's obvious that the Supreme Court realized they made a mistake by getting into the mess. This decision was their way out. It is NOT the purpose of a court to decide how much money should be spent. That is the job of the legislature. What the court had the authority to do, but did not do, was to rule on the formula. Apparently the court didn't know how to handle that one either. Maybe these ambulance chasing attorney's representing the school discticts will back off now that they won't apparently see any super big financial gain for themselves. Who really thought this was about the "children" anyway?

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 11 months ago

all I know is that here in town you still have to pay for anything you want your kids to do even ride the bus if you live to far away and sports, just about anything so I do not see anything having come out of all this.

MWIV 11 years, 11 months ago

So.....mommaeffortx2, just when is enough, enough? Believe me, I don't mind paying taxes, but I do mind paying them when I see the continued waste at all levels of government and that includes school districts. When I see controls put into place on spending, I will support any politician, regardless of political party. Until then.......????

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 11 months ago

have no idea when enough is but I know this whole thing has been a waste of time and money for what I see is no victory for any one I know I could say this better but my brain is not working to well today. sorry.

MWIV 11 years, 11 months ago

I agree with the waste. Your brain will work better tomorrow. Get some rest in the meantime. Enjoy!

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years, 11 months ago

"would have ordered that an education cost study done for the Legislature be analyzed by a state district court"

Don't they still teach that thing about "balance of powers" in junior high?

Wilbur_Nether 11 years, 11 months ago

Pilgrim, the Supreme Court has not initiated an "unrepresented taxation spree." The judiciary is not intended to be representative--it is intended to interpret law. In this case, it is not your judiciary that has failed you, it is the "representative" legislature that did not meet its minimum obligations under the Kansas Constitution. A Constitution for which those preceding us voted. (Or, in the case of education, for the amendment.) Honestly, I don't want a representative judiciary. I believe our founding fathers probably had it right when they chose that judges would be appointed rather than elected, because to have their job security tied to the whims of the masses endangers rule of law and risks establishing rule of mob. Besides, Pilgrim, you do get to vote for quite a few Kansas judges--each election cycle a number of judges are on the ballot for retention.

Wilbur_Nether 11 years, 11 months ago

Pilgrim responded to my earlier post with "...tell all those states that DO elect their judges that they're being unconstitutional."

Pilgrim has twisted my meaning--unintentionally, I suspect, but twisted nonetheless. Rather than calling the system unConstitutional, I said that it risked mobocracy. Kansas' system better allows for independent review of law. And modelled somewhat from the Federal system (other than retention vote, which our State's founding fathers balanced by eliminating the provision for legislative representatives to review and approve an appointment), that frees the judiciary from response to the immediate impulses of the electorate. Whereas our elected representatives (including both legislative houses, the Governor, and other various officials such as State Treasurer, Attorney General, and Secretary of State) are expected to respond to the desires of their constituents, the judiciary is to temper those desires against the rule of law. And, good heavens, have we needed a lot of tempering over the years....

Ragingbear 11 years, 11 months ago

If we spent half the amount of money that we do on war on education, then I feel that this entire finance problem would no longer be an issue. Not to mention that we would stop having illiterate kids graduating high school.

I spek teh enrish gud

MWIV 11 years, 11 months ago

When did we start talking about judges being electged or appointed on this case? This has nothing to do that. It pertains only to lawyers that want a piece of the action just like the tobacco lawyers. They could care less about the children. If they truly cared about the kids then why don't they represent the school districts on a pro bono basis? Follow the money on this deal and that will tell you where the real problem lies. I sort of feel sorry that the Supreme Court got dragged into this.

Wilbur_Nether 11 years, 11 months ago

MWIV wrote in wivvingly fashion "It is NOT the purpose of a court to decide how much money should be spent. That is the job of the legislature. What the court had the authority to do, but did not do, was to rule on the formula."

Interestingly, the Court did not decide how much money should be spent. The Court did, however, interpret the heretofore undefined "suitable provision" phrase in Article 6, Section 6b of the Kansas Constitution. Interpreting the law and the Constitution is the jurisdiction of the Court. They ruled that providing financing for education on political expediency is not "suitable," but that financing based on actual cost is "suitable."

I agree there is plenty of opportunity for anger in this case, but I believe it is misplaced when directed at the Court. Instead, the anger should be directed at the Legislatures who, over the years, failed us (their constituents) in their Constitutional duties. Diatribes against the Court is akin to shooting the messenger.

Incidentally, if you disagree that the Legislature failed to provide for education in suitable fashion, then request your legislator propose a Constitutional amendment that changes the language or otherwise defines that ubiquitous phrase, "suitable provision."

Wilbur_Nether 11 years, 11 months ago

MWIV mwingly wondered "When did we start talking about judges being electged or appointed on this case? This has nothing to do that. It pertains only to lawyers that want a piece of the action...."

At 1:42 p.m. today, Pilgrim accused the Supreme Court of "unrepresented taxation spree." I responded that judicial oversight is, by definition in this State, not representative.

I disagree with your observation that this case is about lawyers wanting a piece of the action. Had the Legislators met their Constitutional obligation, the lawyers would have had not a proverbial leg to stand on.

MWIV 11 years, 11 months ago

Wilbur_Nether sounds like a lawyer representing the school districts! How much do you charge per hour?

I don't blame the Legislature at all. I think they have a very tough job to do when everybody and his brother wants to get into the pockets of the taxpayer. I aksed earlier the question "how much is enough?" What will it take to get a better product out of education. Money is obiously not the anwer, unless you are a lawyer representing the school districts or a school administrator. One can spend a lot of money and get a really nice car or house. One can also spend a lot of money and get the same ole stupid results out of public education. Maybe the answer is that we should spend a billion dollars a year, per student. Will that guarantee a smart graduate or a rich attorney and high paid school administrator?

Why is it that whenever money becomes a problem in the schools that the first answer is to cut teachers? Good grief, look at the layers upon layers of adminstrators that can't seem to do the job themselves that they are paid to do. Why do they require layers and layers of assistants! Now the assistants don't even want to answer their own phones but send the message to "voice mail". Good grief, doesn't anyone work anymore?

That's my story and I am sticking to it.

MWIV 11 years, 11 months ago

Wilbur_Nether, this case is about only one thing. MONEY and who gets it. I again ask the question....just how much is enough? How much money will it take to get the job done? How many years will it take? Where is the money going to come from? Who do you expect to pay the bills? Why is it when it is someone else's money, Katy bar the doors? I work very hard for my money and I don't like turning it over to people that don't know the first thing about running a business which is exactly what education is. The administrators in the school districts have education degrees, not business degrees! Good grief! You sound like a sore loser today!

Wilbur_Nether 11 years, 11 months ago

"Wilbur_Nether sounds like a lawyer representing the school districts!," MWIV exclaimed, following it up with "How much do you charge per hour?"

Which I'm sure MWIV believes is very clever, indeed. I am neither an attorney, nor am I associated with the educational profession. I had no more or less stake in today's decision than I suspect MWIV had, and neither won nore lost. I am, however, a citizen; a taxpayer; a voter; and a person with thoughts, ideas, and opinions that are relevant to the topic.

Oh, and answering your other question. The money is enough when it meets the criteria of "suitable provision" under the Constitution. That criteria is the responsbility of the legislature: Clearly, $756 million within a four-year period is enough.

MWIV 11 years, 11 months ago

Why is $756 million enough? Why not $760 million? And how about next year? And the year after that? This is not a question that can be answered via a consitutional intrepretation! Define "suitable provision"! Why not answer the question! Will a billion dollars a year guarantee us all that all high school graduates will be able to read and write at high school levels and be able to continue their education at the college level and come out, get a job and be prepared to deal the the realities of life? That is certainly more than what you think. If your answer is "yes", let's do it and see! Can I expect a refund of my tax dollars if it doesn't happen? Somehow I doubt it.

I think you are in education and not the legal profession. I also believe you are close to this decision and are not happy about it. I sorry your day was ruined. Frankly, I think enough is enough.

I feel as a parent if my children grow up and do not become a burden on society, ie: not in trouble with the law and not drawing some form of government subsidy of any kind and they are happy with their lives and contributing to the betterment of society, I have suceeded as a parent. I guess I have failed along the way by not keeping tabs on just how much money that cost. If I had then we could have presented that number to the court and be done with this. My kids meet all of the above.

dizzy_from_your_spin 11 years, 11 months ago

Just watch See-bill-us try to spin this to her advantage this Fall. She didn't introduce the approved funding bill, she didn't lobby for it and she signed it while deriding it as insufficient. What a phony.

Apparently the Supreme Court doesn't put much stock in it's own authority. If the convicted drunk driver stays sober 6 out 7 days, wouldn't he be "substantially compliant"?

By the way CJ Kay, your job is to uphold the constitution--there are plenty others charged with looking out for the children of Kansas. Political spin from the SC. I'm surprised the unprecedented announcement wasn't in front of school children.

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