Supreme Court a week away from considering $500 Million for Kansas schools

Kansas Supreme Court (KSN photo)
Kansas Supreme Court (KSN photo)

Wichita, KAN (KSNW) – What would half a billion dollars do for Kansas kids? The Kansas Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday.

“Wednesday is an important day for all of Kansas kids in public schools,” says School Funding attorney Alan Rupe, who is one of the attorneys suing Kansas over education finance. “Because the court will listen to arguments on whether the system is inadequately funded, not providing Kansas public school kids a suitable education.”

And, while the courts begin hearing the arguments, schools and teacher groups are watching closely.

“We have made difficult decisions, and we have made cuts and tried to keep those cuts out of the classroom,” says USD 259 school board member, Betty Arnold. “That’s one of reasons we have gone to a longer school day.”

Arnold says they are watching closely, and remain hopeful that more money could be on the way.

Teacher groups are also interested in the outcome. Steve Wentz, President of the United Teachers of Wichita, says contract talks have stalled with the Wichita school district. In part, Wentz says the stall is over money in tight budget times.

“We all know money is an issue,” says Wentz. “But I believe that there is a disconnect and we are at the point where the rubber meets the road.”

Wentz says the union is asking for a modest raise for experienced teachers. He also says they are asking for recognition that, he believes, some teachers are not able to adequately give time to their students because of heavy work loads.

“But there needs to be a deeper understanding of the everyday struggles and the everyday concerns that teachers have,” says Wentz. “I still believe there is a disconnect. I do not believe it’s malicious, but I believe it’s there.”

Arnold says on the issue of money, she does not speak for the entire school system or the school board. But she did indicate no increase in funding from the state to keep up with the cost of living, makes for an even tighter budget.

“We value all of our employees and, certainly, if we were able to give them compensation that reflected how much value we placed on them, there would be no problem,” says Arnold. But there is no (new) money available. And that’s the huge obstacle.”

Wentz says they are at the point where they will ask for a mediator to come oversee talks on contract negotiations.

“I’ve got calls into KNEA about the process,” explains Wentz. “Basically a third-party that’s agreed upon by both management and labor comes together and does exactly that, presents the facts.”

The Kansas Supreme Court is not offering a time when there will be a decision on adequacy and education. The court will hear arguments in Topeka Wednesday at 9:00 a.m.

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