Kansas Supreme Court will now consider school finance debate

Kansas Supreme Court (KSN photo)

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) – The $293 million dollar question has changed to a nearly $600 million question.

The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered more money for K-12 education after a lawsuit was brought against the state by several school districts. In this legislative session, lawmakers added $293 million over the next two years.

“So, I anticipate a decision within the next two weeks,” says Alan Rupe, an attorney suing the state on behalf of several school districts. “I think what we are going to see is a decision that directs the legislature to go back to the drawing board and fill in some of that 600 million dollars that they’re short, between what the trial court and the studies and the state board have said is needed. I anticipate a decision where they are told to go back to the drawing board and come up with more money.”

Rupe made his arguments on Tuesday in Topeka. Attorneys for the state argued that lawmakers have added enough money.

“There is more money now in the system,” said Steve McAllister, attorney for the state. “And more targeted, but the legislature listened very carefully to this court’s decision.”

McAllister argued that lawmakers weighed a variety of factors over the last year, and even further back. But, attorneys say, it’s the dollar amount that remains the issue.

Some justices asked about the dollar amount as well. Some questioned state lawyers to give justification that an additional $293 million over the next two years is adequate.

“Really all the legislature is doing is replacing some of the money that it took out of the system the last few years. Isn’t that right?” asked Justice Dan Biles.

McAllister maintained lawmakers did the right thing by putting $293 million into schools over the next two years.

“But everything in SB 19 (Senate Bill 19 for funding) is fully funding equalization aid, whether it’s LOB (local option budget) or capital outlays, so there’s no question about that,” said McAllister.

But Rupe believes justices may be leaning towards ordering more funding.

Some lawmakers were on hand to see if they would be ordered back to work by the courts, for a special session.

“I think they saw through the arguments of the state that this ($293 million) wasn’t new money, ” said Representative Lynn Rogers, (D) Wichita.

For years, Rogers has been a vocal school board member in Wichita and now a lawmaker, and says the state has been cutting education funding. “One of the first questions was, this doesn’t even put back what was taken out? Also this money doesn’t even keep up with the inflation factor of the past three years. I have been anticipating a special session ever since we (lawmakers) adjourned.”

Lawmakers could be ordered back to work for a special session, says Rogers, if the courts say more money is needed.

Some attorneys believe, and even some of the justices on the Kansas Supreme Court hinted that, a decision from the court could come soon. Schools need to finalize their budgets for the new school year in just a couple of weeks.

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