By Travis Perry│Kansas Watchdog
TOPEKA — It could be another 90 days before a three-judge panel rules on the latest school funding lawsuit to hit Kansas courts, which seeks to award $1.5 billion to public schools.
The lawsuit accuses state legislators of violating the state constitution by failing to provide a “suitable” education to Kansas youths after curtailing education funds in 2008.
Wichita attorney Alan Rupe successfully sued the state in the last school funding lawsuit in 2006, resulting in the court-ordered injection of $755 million into public education funding.
He is now representing a coalition of 54 Kansas school districts, Schools for Fair Funding. The group brought the class action lawsuit against the state in 2010 and is seeking nearly $1.5 billion it contends is owed to Kansas schools.
Arthur Chalmers, a private attorney from Wichita, was hired by Attorney General Derek Schmidt to represent the state. Chalmers and Rupe exchanged verbal blows during closing arguments Wednesday at the Shawnee County District Courthouse here.
Kansas State Board of Education member Walt Chappell said he sides with the Legislature, and said he thinks a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would be felt statewide.
“Every segment of our economy will have a tax increase. Corporate taxes will go up, and the same with sales tax,” Chappell said. “It depends on how much the courts decide it’s supposed to have from the Legislature, if they can do that constitutionally.”
Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said she’s confident the court will side with the schools, but “the state has done nothing to prepare for a successful lawsuit for schools for fair funding. In fact, they’ve just done the opposite by passing a tax plan that will decrease revenue and make it extremely difficult to fund schools.
“We’re really, I believe, setting up a perfect storm of a tax plan that’s probably going to bankrupt the state because of the deficits that are coming up in 2014 and 2018, and he’s (Gov. Sam Brownback) trying to cut everything he can to backfill that hole so that the state doesn’t go bankrupt,” Schodorf added.
Rupe and Chalmer’s arguments Wednesday focused on whether increased funding improves student performance.
“This argument — that money does not make a difference — should fall on deaf ears in this courtroom,” Rupe said. “The evidence is uncontroverted that everybody who testified in that witness stand said costs have gone up.”
Rupe accused state legislators of acting irresponsibly by cutting $511 million from state education funding since 2009. Chalmer’s said portraying legislators as acting without regard for public schools is unfair.
“I hope that it is absurd to this court to assume that there are members of the Legislature sitting around trying to figure out how to harm education,” Chalmers said, adding that there’s no evidence that increased funding leads to higher student performance.
Judges Franklin Theis, Robert Fleming and Jack Burr are presiding over the case.
Contact Travis Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on twitter at @kansaswatchdog.