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Kansas court orders lawmakers to find $400 million more for schools

By   /   January 11, 2013  /   News  /   No Comments

LETTER OF THE LAW: Three Shawnee County District Court judges have ruled the state’s current school funding formula unconstitutional, and have ordered legislators to inject an additional $400 million into Kansas schools. The ruling is expected to be appealed to the Kansas State Supreme Court.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE — While state lawmakers, officials and educators are still reeling from today’s court ruling on Kansas’ latest school funding lawsuit, one thing is clear.

This fight isn’t even close to over.

A panel of three Shawnee County District Court judges ruled the state’s current school funding formula unconstitutional Friday, prompting praise and criticism from education officials and legislators. The panel, led by Judge Franklin Theis, ruled that state lawmakers cannot reduce the school funding rate below $4,492 per pupil. The current funding rate is $3,838 per pupil.

“Fundamentally, we believe that the best point at which to begin to effect a cure to the constitutional deficiencies we have found in the reductions in the (per-pupil aid) is to go back to the 2008 session when a constitutionally compliant legislature amended (school finance law) to adjust (per pupil aid) for FY2010 and forward to $4,492,” Theis wrote.

State Attorney General Derek Schmidt appealed the ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court within hours of its release.

“Today’s ruling has enormous consequences for the state of Kansas,” Schmidt said.

Prosecuting attorney John Robb told reporters in Wichita on Friday afternoon that, if the ruling stands, it would mean an extra $400 million in funding for Kansas schools. It’s a figure that legislators might find hard to swallow, considering state legislative researchers project that the state will face a $267 million budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

But at nearly 250 pages, the ruling isn’t exactly light reading.

“I’m not sure after I read it through the first time I’ll be able to give you a better answer than I can now,” said Craig Neuenswander, school finance director for the Kansas State Department of Education. “It’s going to take some time to digest.”

But that didn’t stop everyone. Some, like Rep. Greg Smith, R-District 22, fired out opinions on the matter within minutes of the ruling’s release.

“The Judicial branch does not have the Constitutional authority to appropriate funds,” Smith posted to his Twitter account. “That power lies with the Legislature”

Press Secretary Sherriene Jones-Sontag said Gov. Sam Brownback would release a statement regarding the ruling later on Friday after he is able to review the court’s decision.

Contact Travis Perry at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62.


Travis formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.