Topeka Cuts in aid to Kansas public schools are generating talk of another lawsuit over eduction funding, after the state backed off previous commitments because of its budget problems.
Attorneys who sued the state successfully in the past are consulting with school districts about the cuts, both said Tuesday.
In 2005 and 2006, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered legislators to increase education spending dramatically.
This year, the state has cut funding for schools by about $130 million, reducing their base aid by $215 per student, or 4.8 percent. Under a 2006 law, that aid was supposed to continue increasing to at least keep up with inflation.
The Supreme Court had said the law fulfilled the Legislature’s duty under the state constitution to provide a suitable education for every child. Some educators now question whether the state is meeting the mandate and are willing to consider more litigation.
“It’s an option that’s on the table that our board will consider if this continues,” said Richard Atha, superintendent of Garden City’s schools.
Wichita lawyer Alan Rupe, the lead attorney in the previous school funding lawsuit, said he and the other attorneys are sharing information with school officials who are evaluating their options following the budget cuts.
“Nobody likes lawsuits, so it’s not without some hand-wringing that those kinds of decisions are made,” Rupe said. “No decision has been made at this point.”
Aid to schools consumes 52 percent of the state’s general revenues, and many legislators — particularly Republicans — argued that it had to be trimmed to keep the budget balanced this year. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, noted that other programs saw deeper cuts.
Rupe said legislators could reverse tax cuts granted in previous years to provide new dollars for schools. But Yoder and other Republicans contend that raising taxes will slow or halt any economic recovery.
“This comes back to school districts attempting to use the court system to impose tax increases,” Yoder said. “We all know the money isn’t there, and we can’t deficit spend.”
Dodge City Superintendent Alan Cunningham said the district cut $4.5 million in spending, both to make up for cuts in state aid and to be able to renovate its aging middle school. He said it has postponed buying new textbooks and cut training and travel spending, and has managed to avoid laying off teachers.
He said if cuts start hurting instruction, “That is probably what will push any group over the edge.”
“I don’t know if we’re there yet,” he said.
Liberal Superintendent Vernon Welch said his district is trying to be realistic about the state’s finances.
“I know those guys are trying hard up there to find money for education and make their state run, also,” he said.