With the threat of a school funding lawsuit hanging over them, legislators on Monday considered a nonbinding resolution that tells school districts not to use tax monies to sue the Legislature, and tells courts they don’t have the right to tell legislators how much to spend.
State Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, author of Senate Concurrent Resolution 1621, said it didn’t seem right for school districts to “sue us with our own money.”
Kelsey, who is also running for Congress, got support before the Senate Judiciary Committee from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity-Kansas.
The measure is aimed at discouraging legal action by school districts that seek to reverse recent budget cuts to public schools that have been made by the Legislature and Gov. Mark Parkinson.
Members of a coalition of more than 70 school districts have asked the Kansas Supreme Court to reopen a lawsuit filed in 1999 that alleged the state’s school finance system was unconstitutional. The lawsuit led to court orders in 2005 and 2006 that forced increases to public schools.
But in the past year, schools have been cut by about $241 million.
SCR 1621 says no tax funds shall be spent to finance litigation that challenges the constitutionality of a legislative appropriation. The resolution further states that “courts lack the constitutional authority to order the Legislature to make specific appropriations.”
State Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, noted state law already prevents school districts from using state appropriations for lawsuits against the Legislature. Those funds must be taken from local tax funds.
Mark Tallman, a lobbyist with the Kansas Association of School Boards, opposed the resolution, saying if residents of a school district don’t like that the school board allocated tax funds for the lawsuit, they can try to vote the board out.
“We should not be changing the process that allows the courts to enforce what we think are key provisions of the constitution,” Tallman said.
The Judiciary Committee took no action on the measure. Chairman Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, said, “We’ll work it eventually.”