Statehouse Live: Notice filed for new school finance lawsuit

A coalition of Kansas school districts on Thursday notified the state that it intends to file a new school finance lawsuit, alleging that recent education cuts are unconstitutional.

“The Legislature has not kept the promise made by the Constitution to the kids of Kansas,” said John Robb, general counsel for Schools for Fair Funding.

The group won significant increases in school funding in 2005 and 2006 when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the school finance formula failed to adequately and equitably fund schools.

But much of that has been rolled back in recent months during several rounds of budget cuts. In 16 months, public schools have been cut $303 million, according to the coalition.

In the recently completed legislative session, officials approved a temporary 1-cent state sales tax increase, which has stopped the cuts “but has done nothing to repair the damage already done,” Robb said.

State leaders have argued that the school cuts were required because of the state’s record drop in tax revenues during the recession.

But the coalition’s attorneys haven’t bought that argument.

Alan Rupe, trial counsel for Schools for Fair Funding, said the Legislature approved a three-year school funding plan without providing the adequate resources to fund it. On top of that, he said, the Legislature cut taxes, and handed out tax exemptions and abatements.

Gov. Mark Parkinson’s office declined to comment, saying it needed more time to review the filing.

In February, the Kansas Supreme Court denied a petition to reopen the former school finance lawsuit. At that time Parkinson said, “From the outset I have been disappointed that any recipient of public funds would sue the state over budget reductions. We are in an unprecedented crisis and the proper response as Kansans is to pull together and not sue each other. However, we have a responsibility to fund education at an acceptable level even during a recession.”

By filing the notice, Schools for Fair Funding is fulfilling a legal requirement before a new lawsuit can be filed. Robb said the lawsuit will probably be filed in October in Shawnee County and may go to trial in the latter part of 2011.

The group includes 72 school districts with more than 164,000 students, including Wichita, Kansas City, Dodge City and Hutchinson. The Lawrence district is not a member.