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KS: Court to rule on $1.5B education funding lawsuit

By   /   August 30, 2012  /   6 Comments

Attorney Arthur Chalmers, standing, makes his closing argument to a special three-judge panel Wednesday at Shawnee County District Courthouse in Topeka. The judges, from left, are Robert Fleming, Franklin Theis and Jack Burr, who is hidden.

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.

Walt Chappell

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.

State Sen. Jean Schodorf

“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 travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on twitter at @kansaswatchdog.

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Travis Perry is an investigative reporter covering news and politics for Watchdog.org's Kansas bureau. Before joining the organization, Travis graduated cum laude from Washburn University and cut his teeth as news editor for the Osawatomie Graphic, where he received numerous awards from the Kansas Press Association.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.miller.94617 Robert Miller

    Parental involvement leads to higher scores.

  • Facts Not Fox

    Sen.Schodorf is correct.The Governor”s tax plan (supported by his hand-picked legislature)will be a disaster for not only education but everything else that makes Kansas a decent place to live:the arts,public broadcasting,meals on wheels senior support in rural communities,mental health services,parks,even roadside rest stops and highways.
    Attorney Rupe is also correct.It takes money to pay salaries,buy supplies,and pay teachers a living wage.It takes money to provide safe buses and pay the utilities in schools.
    Fund education.The people of Kansas support it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=551265436 Penny Zuck Spore

    That is one factor, yes.

  • Larry Halloran

    The people of Kansas DO NOT support the School District funded lawsuits with our tax dollars or the courts irresponsible actions in even hearing the suit. That is why Jean Schodorf, Steve Morris, Roger Reitz, Pete Brungardt, Bob Marshall, Ruth Teichman and Dwayne Umbarger will not be returning to the Kansas Senate in January, Nor will Pat Colloton be making the trip from the Kansas House to the Senate. John Vratil proved he was the brains behind this bunch when he chose not to waste his money in a bid for re-election and get bounced with the others. The big spending Democrats are next – we have had enough!

  • Charlotte O’Hara

    ……and the money will come from Kansas taxpayers. Except I thought appropriations was to come from the House of Representatives, not the Kansas courts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/carlwalston Carl Walston

    Ensuring our son completes his daily reading cost the taxpayer’s of Kansas zero dollars. The funding issues aside, I hope the Kansas Legislature will reject any decision in favor of the plaintiff on grounds of separation of powers. My statement does not mean I’m in favor of cutting school funding. Quite the opposite. Instead, my statement address the need for our legislature to push back on the courts when they attempt to legislate the state largess from the bench.

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