Published Online: February 22, 2010

Kan. Districts Vote to Move Ahead on Funding Suit

A coalition of school districts has voted to file a new education funding lawsuit against the state.

Friday's vote from members of Schools for Fair Funding was expected after the Kansas Supreme Court refused last week to allow the group to reopen a school finance case that was dismissed in 2006.

John Robb, the lead attorney for the coalition of more than 70 school districts, said the soonest the case would be filed is probably late summer.

The lawsuit comes amid cuts in education spending over the past year as the state has faced declining revenues. The school districts argue the cuts hurt the quality of education.

Fred Kaufman, left, the president of Schools for Fair Funding, shakes hands with William Hammond of the Dodge City school district after a Dec. 18 meeting of the funding group at the local board of education office in Salina, Kan.
—Jeff Cooper/Salina Journal/AP-File

"Today represents the beginning of a process," said Hutchinson schools Superintendent David Flowers. "Nothing, I think, would make people in the room happier than to see resolution of this without that process having to come to fruition. But nonetheless, on behalf of kids, we have to initiate the process."

The case the group sought to reopen was filed in 1999 by the parents of Ryan Montoy. They claimed their son, a student in the Salina school district, wasn't getting a fair education compared with other students elsewhere in the state. Attorneys argued that the formula Kansas used to determine the amount of money legislators were appropriating to schools and how the money was distributed was unconstitutional.

Legislators responded in the 2005 and 2006 sessions by approving hundreds of millions of dollars in funding over several years and changing how those dollars were allocated among the 293 districts. The Supreme Court dismissed the case in 2006 without ruling if the changes to the funding formula or the dollar amounts were in compliance with the state constitution.

Robb argued unsuccessfully that the justices should reopen it because they never ruled if the action legislators took on school funding was constitutional.

But Attorney General Steve Six argued that the school districts were trying to get around a 2005 law requiring any challenge to the school finance formula be filed at the district court level first and heard by a three-judge panel.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said legislators are trying to make no additional cuts to K-12 education, which makes up more than half of the state's budget, as they decide how to make up shortfalls in tax revenue.

"The school districts need to wait and see what happens," said Schodorf, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. "School districts need to be part of the solution."

School leaders said they would be happy to see a resolution to education funding without filing a lawsuit, but they said it doesn't appear that will happen.

"The reason for this action is for all the kids in Kansas," Wichita school board member Lynn Rogers said. "It's very important our kids are served."

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