Topeka — A New Jersey-based group that advocates for the rights of students is seeking permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the school finance lawsuit pending before the Kansas Supreme Court, but Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office wants to keep that organization out of the case.
The Education Law Center, which has participated in numerous school finance cases as well as lawsuits involving the rights of special education and disabled students, filed a motion with the Kansas court last week, seeking permission to file what lawyers refer to as an amicus brief.
If allowed, lawyers for the organization said they "will demonstrate that courts across the nation, like the trial court here, have continued to enforce the constitutional right to an adequate public education."
"Even with tightened budgets and reduced funding for education in recent years, state courts have rendered decisions protecting these important constitutional rights," the group said.
Plaintiffs in the case, Gannon vs. Kansas, argue that funding cuts enacted since the economic downturn began in 2008 violate the Kansas Constitution, which requires the Legislature to "make suitable provision for finance" of public schools.
After a month-long trial last year, a special three-judge panel agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered the Legislature to increase funding by more than $500 million a year.
ELC says it has filed amicus briefs in numerous "educational opportunity" cases in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, and South Carolina.
ELC's most notable case, however, is Abbott vs. Burke, a case filed in 1981 that has been in litigation for more than 30 years. The case involves funding for 31 of New Jersey's poorest urban and suburban school districts.
That case in particular is one reason why attorneys for the state of Kansas are trying to keep ELC out of the Kansas case.
"Most would agree that the New Jersey model of school finance litigation is at the extreme end of the spectrum, a model that virtually all other states have rejected," Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office said in its response to ELC's request.
Schmidt's office also argues that ELC should be excluded because it has a close relationship with Bruce Baker, a Rutgers University professor who testified as an expert witness during the trial of the Kansas case on behalf of the plaintiffs.
"Granting this particular (and unusual) amicus request sets a dangerous precedent of allowing parties to an appeal to utilize affiliated parties (including hired expert witnesses) to effectively gain additional pages for their briefing in this Court," attorneys for the state said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, however, said the state was exaggerating the connection between Baker and the ELC. They said the ELC would help give the Court a national perspective on the case.
"In this case, the Court is called upon to answer serious constitutional questions regarding the educational prospects of Kansas' schoolchildren," lawyers for the plaintiffs said in their response. "The implications that it should do so in a vacuum devoid of the perspective of other states dealing with the same issues is nonsensical."
The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on ELC's motion, but is likely to do so early next week. The deadline for amicus briefs to be submitted to the Court is Friday.
Oral arguments in the case are set for Oct. 8. A ruling is expected around the first of next year.