Topeka The issue that has shaped Kansas politics for the past two years reaches a watershed moment today.
Attorneys in the long-running school finance lawsuit will face off before the Kansas Supreme Court in oral arguments over whether the Legislature's latest attempt to fix the school funding system is constitutional.
The state will argue that the recently approved, three-year, $466 million increase for schools is enough to answer the concerns of previous court rulings; plaintiff's attorneys, representing low-wealth districts, will say the new plan doesn't come close.
At stake is a $3.5 billion funding method that supports Kansas' 450,000-student public school system. Rejection of the new plan also could lead to a second special legislative session in as many years, which also would occur right in the middle of the election season.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has said the new funding plan represents a "good-faith effort" and a "step in the right direction."
Alan Rupe, the attorney representing the plaintiff school districts, said the Kansas Constitution doesn't recognize good-faith efforts. His client school districts first filed the lawsuit in 1999 and are still waiting for resolution, he said.
Last year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the school finance system unconstitutional because it shortchanged all students, especially those from low-income areas.
It ordered increases in school funding last year, and after a special legislative session accepted a $290 million increase as a down payment on whatever a legislative cost study said was needed to provide an adequate education.
That cost study came in this year, saying $400 million more was needed for the 2006-07 school year. The Legislature's three-year plan totaling $466 million would allocate less than half of the cost-study amount next year.
But Alok Ahuja, a private attorney representing the state, said the cost study should be considered "a policy tool, not an absolute indicator of the constitutional threshold for state K-12 funding."
Rupe said his problem with the new plan is that it's not enough and continues to provide additional funding to small rural districts at the expense of urban districts with high numbers of poor children.
"The bill's funding is not allocated based on the actual and necessary costs of providing a suitable education," Rupe said in his legal brief.
"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 new law)," he added.
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)