Topeka If state elected leaders start cutting school budgets, they may find themselves back in court.
Alan Rupe, the attorney who led the school finance lawsuit that resulted in record dollars going to schools, said, “I can tell you for certain that if there is a reduction in the funding that the Legislature has agreed to, there will be a thorough review and a decision made” on whether to pursue litigation.
But, he said, at this point no decision has been made because school officials are “optimistic that the governor and the Legislature will do the right thing.”
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Legislature face a $140 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year, and potentially $1 billion in the next fiscal year.
Since public school finance — about $3.3 billion annually — makes up more than half the state budget, some have said cuts to schools will be necessary to balance the state budget.
Sebelius has vowed that in the current fiscal year, she will recommend no cuts to schools, saying it would be too much of a hardship midway through the school year.
But for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, she said she will propose “adjustments” to schools.
“They (school districts) will have an opportunity before they enter budget negotiations, before they enter teacher contracts, to know what’s coming for the next fiscal year,” she said.
She has declined to elaborate, saying that her recommendations will be released Jan. 12 at the start of the 2009 legislative session.
But cutting schools is not like taking whacks at a state agency.
The Kansas Constitution requires a public school system, and the financing issue came to a head in 2005, after many years of litigation, when the state Supreme Court declared that lawmakers had unconstitutionally underfunded schools, especially low-income districts.
The decision led to a special legislative session in 2006 that produced a three-year, $466 million funding plan. Under current law, the state already is committed to $142 million in additional school funding for the next fiscal year.
At the time of those decisions, state revenues were increasing at such a healthy clip that lawmakers were able to increase school spending and cut taxes at the same time. But those times are history now.