Topeka Legislators on Tuesday started preparing for a lawsuit that will be filed against them by schools that allege the state has failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation to adequately fund education.
Deputy Attorney General Patrick Hurley said the lawsuit by Schools for Fair Funding, a coalition of more than 70 school districts, could be filed as soon as Oct. 15.
Hurley told members of a Special Committee on Education that he expects the litigation could take 2 1/2 years or more. The attorney general's office has hired the Wichita law firm of Hite, Fanning & Honeyman to help it represent the state in the lawsuit,
Schools for Fair Funding won significant school funding increases in 2005 and 2006 when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the school finance formula failed to adequately and equitably fund schools.
But as part of the recent budget crisis, schools have been cut more than $300 million during the past two years.
Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe, asked Hurley what would happen if the Legislature refused to comply with a court order to increase school appropriations.
"It could potentially create a very interesting constitutional problem for the state," Hurley said.
Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Courtland, said of the Legislature's last confrontation with the Kansas Supreme Court over school finance: "We didn't want them to take over education, so we capitulated and let them take over appropriations."
Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, said the state should try to avoid litigation and settle the issue out of court. "We recognize the goal is to restore the cuts that have been made," he said.
Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said legislators would have to increase school funding by $415 million to comply with the level of funding approved by the state in 2008.
School funding, which makes up more than half of the state budget, has become a contested part of the governor's race.
Republican Sam Brownback has said he wants to overhaul the school finance formula, but has refused to say how. Democrat Tom Holland, a state senator from Baldwin City, has said as the economy improves he wants to make up the funding cuts to schools.
On Tuesday, Holland was endorsed by Republican Bill Kassebaum, a former state legislator, who cited Holland's commitment to schools.
Referring to Brownback, Kassebaum said, “The Republican candidate wants to alter the funding formula, which I think will only create a system of ‘haves’ and ‘haves not.’ Wealthy districts will have the resources to provide a suitable education, but non-wealthy and many rural school districts will not.”