Archive for Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some Kansas school districts considering new funding lawsuit

September 22, 2009


— 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.


justthefacts 6 years ago

Oh this makes a lot of sense. The state (and nation) has less money than ever and so there are public agencies who want to use some of that precious money to SUE to get more money?? Where is extra $$ going to come from? Hmmmm. Let's just give up now and start (a) Planting money trees; (b) giving 100% of our pay checks to the government or (c) planning for when the country and its government (not to mention each person) becomes completely bankrupt.

situveux1 6 years ago

Another article I read quoted Rupe as saying public education was cut 22%??? I'd really like to know how he gets to that number, because I KNOW other agencies took bigger hits so education didn't have to be cut as much.

BigDog 6 years ago

A 22% reduction sounds like Mr. Rupe is basing that upon reductions to the increase that schools received not based upon the entire amount that they receive.

BigDog 6 years ago


you are correct Alan Rupe made a significant amount of money from the last lawsuit against the state.

kugrad 6 years ago

Decisions on funding are not made on the principle that all things must be funded fairly and equally "across the board". However, when we suffer from economic downturn, the state takes the easy way out and tries to apply across the board cuts rather than do its job. The state went to court and lost. They have a constitutional obligation to adequately fund schools. They had NOT met that obligation. Cutting funds to schools, rather than make more targeted cuts has again put them in the position of not meeting their obligations. They had options. They could use some of the $200 million dollar reserve they hold (because they have the power to change the law regarding that reserve). They could have made targeted cuts instead of across the board cuts. The state legislature is to blame here. They haven't been doing their job for a long time.

LogicMan 6 years ago

"Time to change the Constitution in Kansas."

Agreed. My very limited understanding is that an amendment was passed in recent decades that has caused this spate of lawsuits? Where is that amendment shown on the web?

kusp8 6 years ago, didn't see that one coming sarcasm.

Actually, once they cut the budget I knew it was only a matter of time.

I doubt this will happen, but I really hope it does simply from a seperation of powers perspective.... So, the KS SC orders the Legislature to give schools more funding. Where does that money come from? At some point the Legislature is going to say, 'If you can find the money you can have it...oh, but you can't cut anything else to find the money'. So when the legislature and/or the governor refuse to recognize a court order who is going to force them to recognize the court's decision?

I agree the Legislature hasn't lived up to its obligation...but, with the budget the way it is there is, unfortunately, no way these school districts can expect to recieve these funds.

Lori Nation 6 years ago

Why isn't Lawrence included in this?

Bruce Bertsch 6 years ago

The ONLY mandated budget item in the Kansas Constitution is k-12 education. The problem facing the legislature is simple...either cut all services past the point where it hurts to fund education or (gasp) raise taxes. They are eventually going to face the same issue with higher education. Maintenance hasn't been properly funded for decades. Buildings are crumbling while the student population rises. At some point the STATE (taxpayers) will have to pay the piper.

For a moment, imagine that all of the tax decreases that the legislature passed had been put in a rainy day fund. This crisis would not exist. The answer is simple...quit re-electing the same legislators and expecting different results.

avoice 6 years ago

Perhaps the area for debate here is "adequately funded." Does the State Constitution specifically define what is adequate? Could some of the things school districts spend money on be considered non-essential to an adequately funded K-12 education? This whole thing reeks of extortion tactics. Let's let the taxpayers of Kansas decide what is adequate funding for our schools and not just hand over a blank check in the name of meeting a "constitutional" mandate.

redfred 6 years ago

moderationman - not only has maintenance not been funded the state hasn't contributed thier share to the retirment system for over 12 years. There may be a law suit from the retirees shortly if things don't turn around.

BigDog 6 years ago

BABBOY, K-12 education consumes over 50% of the entire state budget yet last year the budget reductions to education were less than reductions for public safety and social services. And when you throw in higher education you are now talking about education consuming over 66% of the entire states budget.

Take a quick look sometime as to how much additional funding has been spent on these two education systems in just the last 5 years compared to the rest of the state budget. K-12 has received nearly $1 billion in increased funding over that period.

As to why there is not merit based pay for teachers ..... you might want to ask the KNEA and other teachers organizations. Some Republican legislative leaders have been pushing this idea for years. They feel much like happens in the private sector that your raise should be based on how well you perform .... not everyone getting the same amount regardless of the performance of the teacher.

farva 6 years ago

Why should there be merit raises for teachers and why do they get unions? Since schools receive billions from the state that is used for salaries, they should be held to the same pay system as other state workers, and receive no raises like the rest of the state workers. There are many other state jobs that pay less than teachers that require more effort, skill, and knowledge....and have to work year around!

Maybe they should consolidate schools like all the other states have done to reduce costs? Why can't we still use markerboards instead of very costly smartboards like some use? Why not use traditional low-maintenance designs when building or adding on, instead of the expensive architectural desings with decorative brick and statues? Schools are among the nicest and most luxurious public buildings being built, and a fancy building does not equate to a better education!

We need to repeal that constitutional ammendment.

hipgrrrrl 6 years ago

I want vouchers. Wouldn't it be nice if we could choose where to send our kids based on how we think they should be educated? On how whichever school/system spent their dollars? On whether they provided adequate results or actually educated based on intellect rather than the lowest commom denominator?

Wow - wouldn't that be great if we were allowed to make that choice? I think so. Vouchers! Vouchers!! Vouchers!!!

Wow...what a dream!

Stephen Roberts 6 years ago

Great job- more school districts wanting to sue the state. Go ahead. How much does each of these district get in State aid. The legislature should fund education but not fund sports, band, orchestra and the extracurricular activities. If this happens, people will really see what the districts value. This attorney should be ashamed of himself, i wait I forgot he is an attorney.

Stephen Roberts 6 years ago

The legislature should also review the school districts expenses. It may not be a question of funding but how the districts "CHOOSE" to spend the money.

situveux1 6 years ago

"Adequate funding" is the core issue. The SC ruled before that "adequate funding" meant over $1 billion more over the next three years. If they should sue again, I see no reason why the SC would act any differently. And as the Legislature hasn't changed that much, I see no reason why they would respond differently, especially now that they have set the precedent of compliance.

Should the districts sue, which they will, I imagine it will eventually end up with a court mandated tax increase or a Legislature capitulating to the court and passing a tax increase. The only question will be how quickly the court will hear the case and whether they'll get it done before Brownback is in office. I would imagine the court will move things along so the Legislature is forced to act while Parkinson is still in office.

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