Topeka Lawyers for a coalition of 74 Kansas school districts asked the state Supreme Court on Monday to reopen a 2006 ruling on funding of public schools to determine if the law and spending cuts are constitutional.
Attorneys John Robb and Alan Rupe filed paperwork with the court for the group Schools for Fair Funding, which represents some 168,000 Kansas students. The attorneys said the state has “has chronically rebuked its school funding responsibilities.”
“It has acted in defiance of its own laws, this court’s decisions and the Kansas Constitution,” the attorneys wrote.
The filing asks the court to determine the constitutionality of the current school finance system and of cuts in state aid to districts over the past year. The filing comes on the same day of the opening of the 2010 legislative session.
Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican and an attorney involved in earlier school finance litigation in the 1990s, predicted the Supreme Court will dismiss the petition. He said the Supreme Court isn’t equipped to gather evidence and is likely to conclude that district court is the proper place for the latest challenge to start.
But Rep. Marti Crow, a Leavenworth Democrat who’s also an attorney, predicted the high court would hear the case because it has ruled previously.
“Kansas is known for speedy justice, not kicking things around,” Crow said.
The funding has been reduced as the state struggles with declining revenue. Gov. Mark Parkinson and the Kansas Legislature have reduced total state aid to 2006 levels.
State aid for the 2007-08 school year topped $3.1 billion — or $1 billion more than it was in 2003-04. It’s still $2.87 billion for the current school year.
House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, called the lawsuit “frivolous” and suggested districts ought to lose a dollar in state aid for every dollar spent on the case.
State Board of Education member Sue Storm, an Overland Park Democrat, said the filing isn’t helpful as officials try to work together to address the state’s budget problems.
The original lawsuit was filed in 1999, challenging the way the level of state funding and how the money was disbursed among districts. The plaintiffs sought increases in funding to improve student achievement among minorities and students living in poverty.
Legislators responded by approving hundreds of millions in funding over several years. The Kansas Supreme Court dismissed the case in 2006 without ruling if the changes to the funding formula or the dollar amounts were in compliance with the state constitution.
The attorneys are asking the Supreme Court to reopen the case and send it to a lower court for trial where evidence regarding the impact of the spending cuts can be presented. If the court denies the motion, the attorneys have said they would file a new lawsuit in district court.
There is no precedent for the Kansas Supreme Court to reopen a case it has dismissed. The attorneys cite a case in Arkansas where the state’s highest court reopened a school finance case when legislators failed to comply with an earlier ruling to increase education spending.