Archive for Friday, April 25, 2014

Kansas seeks dismissal of equity portion of school finance lawsuit

April 25, 2014

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Motion to dismiss equity claims ( .PDF )

— Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Friday filed a motion to dismiss part of the school finance lawsuit, saying that the recently approved funding bill successfully addresses a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state had unconstitutionally under-funded poor schools.

Schmidt told a three-judge panel hearing the school finance case that the Legislature "has acted timely and in good faith" to correct the funding inequities.

"Because those constitutional infirmities are now cured, there is nothing more for the panel to do with regard to the equity claims," Schmidt said.

In March, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that school funding was inequitably distributed and directed the three-judge panel to assess the Legislature's response and whether overall funding was "adequate."

Schmidt said the new legislation allocates $109 million in equalization aid for local school budgets and $25 million for capital outlay.

Earlier this week, Gov. Sam Brownback signed the school bill into law.

John Robb, general counsel for Schools for Fair Funding — the group that sued the state for more funding — said earlier this week that the new legislation appeared to meet the Kansas Supreme Court's equity mandate.

"Now it's time to finish the job, as directed by the Supreme Court, and address whether the state is adequately funding the schools," Robb said. "I am confident that the court will find that the state has not met this obligation," he said.

Schmidt says in his filing that if the panel dismisses the equity claims, then it should allow the portion of the new bill in which school districts can raise more local funds to be considered in the "adequacy" issue.

Schmidt's filing came as District Court Judge Franklin Theis, who is the presiding judge of the three-judge panel, set a June 11 hearing on whether the funding plan satisfies the state Supreme Court order.

In response to Theis' order, Robb said on Friday it appears the lower-court panel will examine the entire school bill, including controversial provisions that were added by Republican legislative leaders.

Those include repeal of teacher tenure, tax breaks for corporations that provide funds for scholarships for low-income students to go to private schools, and relaxing teacher licensing requirements for certain subjects.

"The question appears to be whether all the policy items in the bill weigh the bill down so much, in the court's eyes, that it sinks," Robb said. "We have not developed a response to the court's questions yet. We are studying those issues," he said.

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