TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys for Kansas hope to persuade the state Supreme Court that recent changes in the state’s education funding system are fair enough to poor districts that the justices can abandon a threat to shut down public schools.
The high court was set to hear arguments Tuesday on whether the technical changes legislators made earlier this year comply with a February order from the justices to improve funding for poor school districts. The changes leave most districts’ aid unchanged and don’t boost overall education spending.
Lawyers for four school districts suing the state contend legislators’ work shouldn’t satisfy the Supreme Court because aid to all poor districts didn’t increase. But the state’s attorneys have submitted more than 950 pages of documents in an attempt to show that lawmakers’ solution was in keeping with past court decisions.
“I’m hopeful the Supreme Court’s going to take what the Legislature has done and say it’s an appropriate answer,” Republican Gov. Sam Brownback told reporters ahead of the arguments.
The Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, districts sued the state in 2010, arguing that Kansas spends too little on its schools and unfairly distributes the aid it does provide, more than $4 billion a year.
The court concluded in February that lawmakers hadn’t done enough to ensure that poor districts keep up with wealthy ones. The justices ordered lawmakers to fix the problems by June 30 or face having schools shut down.
If the high court rejects the Republican-dominated Legislature’s work, lawmakers could go back for another try. Some predict it will happen, though legislators aren’t scheduled to meet again this year, aside from a brief June 1 adjournment ceremony.
John Robb, a Newton attorney representing the four districts suing the state, said lawmakers either must boost overall spending so that poor districts get more aid, or take aid from wealthy districts to give poor districts more.
Facing ongoing budget problems and political difficulties in stripping funds from some districts, the Legislature did neither.
“They just renamed the money,” Robb said ahead of the Supreme Court’s hearing.
Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since the state slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging in an effort to stimulate the economy. Brownback hasn’t backed off his signature tax cuts, and neither chamber showed enough of an appetite for reversing them this year.
Legislative committees considered proposals to boost total money to poor districts by taking funds away from as many as 100 districts. But those measures garnered little support.
The state constitution — in a provision adopted by voters 50 years ago this November — requires legislators to make “suitable provision” for financing “educational interests.” The Supreme Court has ruled that the state must finance a suitable education for every child.
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