Archive for Monday, June 19, 2017

School finance law to take effect July 1, even though it will still be under court review

School district attorney Alan Rupe, left, presents his case in a school funding case at the Kansas Supreme Court Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016, in Topeka, Kan. The hearing stems from a 2010 lawsuit brought by four school districts contending schools are underfunded by the state. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

School district attorney Alan Rupe, left, presents his case in a school funding case at the Kansas Supreme Court Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016, in Topeka, Kan. The hearing stems from a 2010 lawsuit brought by four school districts contending schools are underfunded by the state. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

June 19, 2017

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— The Kansas Supreme Court said Monday that it will allow a new school funding system to take effect July 1, even though the law will still be under judicial review and could be struck down at a later date.

The court issued an order Monday setting out a schedule for reviewing the new school funding plan that Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law on Thursday.

The court had initially set June 30 as the deadline for the state to enact a funding system that meets constitutional muster. But because the governor and Legislature did not get a new bill to the court until Friday, June 16, both the state and the plaintiffs in the case asked that the law be allowed to take effect even while its constitutionality is still under review.

"Consistent with the parties' previously noted opposing views on the act's constitutionality, this granting of their request should not be misconstrued as our prejudicing that ultimate question," Chief Justice Lawton Nuss wrote in an order released Monday.

In March, the court ruled unanimously that current funding for public schools was inadequate and therefore unconstitutional. That block grant funding system, which lawmakers put in place in 2015 after repealing a formula that had been used since the early 1990s was scheduled to expire on June 30 anyway.

Debate over a new funding system consumed much of the 2017 legislative session, which lasted a record-tying 114 days.

In the end, lawmakers passed a new formula that is similar in many ways to the one lawmakers repealed in 2015. But it phases in over two years a $293 million increase in school spending. Of that, the Lawrence school district would get about $4.8 million.

Alan Rupe, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, said he will argue that the increase is still insufficient and that the state needs to kick in upward of $800 million a year in new funding.

The state, however, is expected to argue that the additional money contained in the new plan is specifically targeted to address concerns the court raised in March about the roughly 25 percent of Kansas students who are not performing at grade level on state reading and math tests.

In its order Monday, the court said it will hear oral arguments from both sides on Tuesday, July 18. A ruling will be expected soon after that.

If the court finds that new funding in the new law is still inadequate, or if it finds other constitutional problems with the plan, that could force lawmakers back for a special session this summer to come up with a plan the court will accept.

Another possibility, though, is that the court could retain jurisdiction over the case and review the plan in a year or two to determine whether schools are improving test scores for those low-performing students.

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