Kan. On Defensive Over School Funding Before Court

Oct 9, 2013

Several Kansas Supreme Court justices said Tuesday the state has broken its funding promises to public schools.

But they acknowledged that the current funding guidelines might not be feasible for the state, long-term.

The court will decide whether to uphold a lower-court's ruling from January. It ordered the state to increase school funding by at least $440 million a year.

A state law enacted in 2006 set the state's base funding for public schools at $4,492 per student, but the current base state funding is $3,838 per student, or nearly 15 percent less.

The justices are considering a lawsuit filed in 2010 by attorneys for students and several school districts, including Dodge City, Hutchinson, Kansas City and Wichita.

The plaintiffs say the state has failed to comply with a 2006 Supreme Court order to increase funding, and has violated a provision of the Kansas Constitution requiring the Legislature to make "suitable provision" for financing public schools.

Justices Eric Rosen and Lee Johnson said the court signed off on the 2006 law - and ended the previous lawsuit - based on promises that funding would increase.

"It stands before me, in my eyes, as a broken promise," Rosen said from the bench. "If that promise had been kept, we would not be here."

State Solicitor General Stephen McAllister defended the state in the hearing. McAllister argued legislators have latitude under the Kansas Constitution over spending decisions, though they did the best they could during and after the recession.

But in a ruling issued in January, a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court noted that as the state's economy improved, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved massive personal income tax cuts.

The state Supreme Court's decision is anticipated by early January 2014.