Plaintiffs: School finance bill fails grade

Lawsuit contends legislation provides inadequate funding

? Kansas public schools will be shortchanged by nearly $1 billion over the next three years, according to plaintiff school districts that have sued the state.

The districts have asked the Kansas Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the Legislature’s recent school finance bill that would increase school funding by $466 million over the next three years.

But the legislation – known as Senate Bill 549 – fails to adequately and equitably fund schools, attorneys Alan Rupe and John Robb argued.

Their 78-page legal brief will be part of the record, along with the state’s filings and numerous others, in preparation for oral arguments before the court June 22.

The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled the school finance system unconstitutional because it shortchanges all students, especially those in low-income areas.

It ordered lawmakers to fund schools at the actual cost of providing an education.

Last week, the state filed its legal brief, saying the recent “massive increase” in funding and changes in how those funds are spent have adequately addressed the court’s concerns. Attorneys representing the Attorney General’s Office and the Legislature said the court should deem the school finance law constitutional and end the lawsuit, which started in 1999.

But school districts that successfully sued the state say the newest increase is not nearly enough, and the way the funds are distributed worsens the problem of unequal funding.

“The bill’s funding is not allocated based on the actual and necessary costs of providing a suitable education,” Rupe and Robb said.

“In fact, the funding is distributed in such an inequitable manner that it exacerbates the unconstitutional disparities existing in the system prior to the adoption of SB 549.

“The state calls this inequitable distribution of funds a ‘political or public policy question.’ The Plaintiffs call it unconstitutional.”

For example, a cost-study showed the state needed to increase funding by $195.3 million for programs aimed at students at risk of failing. But the legislation increased that amount by $49.3 million.

While districts with large proportions of at-risk students are getting shortchanged, smaller and mostly rural districts are getting more than the cost study said they actually need, the attorneys argued.

But Rupe and Robb argue that for the next school year, the new finance bill shorts schools by $276 million. Cumulatively, the bill would provide $985 million less than the actual and necessary costs of schools over the next three years, they said. Annual state funding of schools currently is about $3 billion.