Legislators deserve credit for trying to remedy school funding problems even if they didn't meet all the suggestions of an education cost study, attorneys for the state told the Kansas Supreme Court today.
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)
Attorneys for the state and the State Board of Education asked the justices to approve a recently enacted plan to boost funding by $541 million over three years, suggesting it was a good-faith attempt to meet court orders.
"The Legislature is trying to do its best," said Stephen McAllister, a University of Kansas law professor representing the state. "I don't think it makes it unconstitutional because they've been unable to reach some maximum level of funding."
But an attorney representing parents and administrators in Dodge City and Salina, who sued the state in 1999, said legislators failed to follow the recommendations in a cost study released in January by the Legislative Division of Post Audit. The court had told legislators to consider the cost study in deciding how much to spend on public schools.
Alan Rupe, of Wichita, said the Legislature must follow the cost study because the Supreme Court ordered it to base education funding on schools' actual cost. He said it is "disingenuous" for the state to suggest that the court ignore the study.
"We're back because school funding remains inadequate and inequitable and does not reflect actual and necessary costs," Rupe said.
Rupe and his fellow plaintiffs' attorneys contend the plan is $985 million short of meeting schools' needs over the next three years.
"It is a large sum of money over a large period of time," Dan Biles, the State Board of Education's attorney said. "We have to figure out, are we talking about the precision of surgery or legislation?"
Alok Ahuja, a Kansas City-area attorney representing the state, told the court the study should not be viewed strictly as evidence to use in assessing the plan. He said even the study acknowledged that legislators had to sift through various scenarios, assumptions and policy choices before settling on how much to spend and how to distribute any new dollars.
Justices Robert Davis and Marla Luckert suggested that if the study isn't used as evidence, then the court might want to send the school finance lawsuit back to a lower court so more evidence can be gathered.
"We asked that their decisions be based on cost," Davis told a Ahuja, referring to legislators. "We have before us a cost analysis."
But Justice Carol Beier asked Rupe, "Is there any room for compromise in your position?"
Rupe said there is. "We're asking for substantial compliance," he added, "and they have not come close to substantial compliance."
The court ruled last year that the Legislature had not met its constitutional duty to provide a suitable education for every child because it neither spent enough money nor distributed its dollars fairly.
McAllister told the court that even though it has an important role in determining what's constitutional, the Legislature is due a great deal of deference.
"The Legislature is the one place where all Kansans can have a voice in the funding and operation of our schools," he said.
His comment caused Justice Donald Allegrucci to snap: "The voice of the people speaks through the constitution."
Legislators last year increased aid by $290 million, or more than 10 percent. While the Supreme Court signed off on the Legislature's actions, it said it could order larger increases in the future, depending on the results of the Post Audit study.
The study said the state needed to increase its aid for the 2006-07 term by at least $400 million for schools to meet the state's academic requirements. But legislative leaders believed that if they approved a multiyear, bipartisan plan, the justices might accept it.
Most legislators had wanted to avoid raising taxes to finance additional aid for schools, and the plan they approved this year relies on existing revenues.