News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

September 27, 2000 2 min read

Finance Suit in Kansas Belongs In Federal Court, Judge Rules

A challenge to the method Kansas uses to finance public education should not be thrown out of federal court, a federal judge in Wichita, Kan., has ruled.

In a Sept. 14 ruling, U.S. District Judge Monti L. Belot denied two motions by the state to dismiss a lawsuit filed by 22 students in the Salina and Dodge City districts. The state had argued that federal court was not a proper forum for the dispute.

The suit claims that the state’s 1992 school finance law denies minority students and those with disabilities their fair share of federal funds coming to the state, violating federal guarantees of equal protection.

Under the law, the state is responsible for financing public education in its 304 school districts and has the power to tax property to pay for it. The state funding formula gives more money per pupil to districts with enrollments below 1,725 than to larger districts.

“It’s our contention that the state’s school finance law discriminates against mid-sized districts, because we serve a disproportionately higher percentage of minority and disabled students,” said Dana Stanton, a spokeswoman for the Dodge City schools, which enroll 5,400 students.

The suit also challenges the law’s provision for districts to pass a “local option budget” underwritten by local taxes. The plaintiffs contend that wealthier communities can raise significantly more school revenue than poor communities can.

Dan Biles, a lawyer for the state board of education, said that Judge Belot apparently disagreed with other federal judges who have ruled against the use of federal equal-protection guarantees to challenge school finance laws, but that the state might still prevail on the merits of the case.

—Andrew Trotter

Calif. Teachers To Get Help With Housing

Many educators and principals priced out of California’s hot housing markets will now be eligible to receive some $64 million in tax cuts and low-interest loans from the state.

The Extra Credit Teacher Home Purchase Program, unveiled last week, will make homes more affordable for some 400 professionals who pledge to work in the state’s lowest-performing schools, said Lisa Presta, a spokeswoman for state Treasurer Philip Angelides.

California faces an estimated shortage of 250,000 teachers over the next 10 years because of a projected population increase and the implementation of class-size- reduction policies.

High housing costs are deterrents for teachers and principals who earn middle-income salaries, Ms. Presta said. The average price of a house in Los Angeles is $248,000; in Santa Clara County, it’s $411,000.

The housing perk is available to educators who pledge to work for five years in the lowest-performing schools in six counties.

—Julie Blair