Topeka The long-running school finance lawsuit in Kansas is about to enter a new and critical phase as the Kansas Supreme Court decides whether the new school funding plan that Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law Thursday is constitutional and whether the public school system in Kansas can continue operating beyond June 30.
That was the deadline the court gave lawmakers in a March 2 decision when it struck down the current funding system as inadequate and therefore unconstitutional. It said it would not allow the state to operate an unconstitutional funding system beyond the June 30 deadline.
In a document labeled as a "notice of legislative cure," Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Friday sent the justices a copy of the new school funding law and urged them to act quickly to approve it as constitutional.
Schmidt also asked the court to hold off on closing the school system after June 30 if its review of the new law goes beyond that deadline.
The new funding plan puts back in place a per-pupil funding formula similar to the one lawmakers repealed in 2015, while the school finance case was still pending. It also adds various "weightings" to each district's enrollment to account for the higher cost of educating students in poverty and those from non-English speaking households.
All told, it phases in over two years a $293 million increase in annual K-12 school funding, with automatic increases tied to the Midwest inflation rate in the following years.
In his filing with the court, Schmidt said that amount was "reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public school students meet or exceed" basic educational outcomes that the court set out in an earlier ruling as the basis for deciding whether a funding system is constitutional.
But many critics of the new funding plan argued that the additional funding was still inadequate because the base per-pupil funding amount, at $4,006, is still far below the $4,400 amount that was authorized in the 2008-2009 school year, before the state started slashing budgets as the Great Recession quickly set in.
Alan Rupe, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the new law "falls way short of the funds necessary to achieve a constitutionally adequate education for all Kansas public school children."
Rupe had noted earlier that the remedy initially ordered by a three-judge panel that tried the case called for increasing K-12 funding by nearly $900 million a year, a figure that was similar to the amount requested by the Kansas State Board of Education when it submitted a budget request to the governor's office last fall.
On Friday, the court said it plans to conduct a conference call with attorneys in the case at 8:30 a.m. Monday "to discuss deadlines and identify at least the major issues arising out of the signing" of the school funding bill.
The court said it plans to issue a scheduling order later in the day Monday.