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63 Kansas School Districts Sue Over Millions in Funding Cuts

Plaintiffs Say Reductions Violate the State's Constitution

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A group of more than five dozen Kansas school districts filed a lawsuit against the state last week, contending that cuts the state legislature made to education spending violated Kansas’ Constitution.

The lawsuit was filed in Shawnee County District Court by a group called Schools for Fair Funding, which represents the 63 school districts, including Kansas City.

More than $303 million has been cut from state school funding since the economic downturn began, despite lawmakers’ promises to boost funding, the lawsuit contends. A previous school finance lawsuit touched off a bitter constitutional tug-of-war in 2005 that ended with legislators grudgingly adding nearly $1 billion in new school dollars.

“This train wreck was certainly foreseeable,” John Robb, an attorney representing Schools for Fair Funding, told the Kansas City Star. “Those who oppose public education never intended to make good on their commitment to the children of Kansas,” Mr. Robb said. “They intentionally cut state revenues and then pleaded poverty when it came time to fund the formula.”

But the sour economy’s effect on state finances is no illusion, countered state Sen. John Vratil, a Republican from Leawood. Mr. Vratil, an attorney and expert on school finance, said the legislature had no choice but to cut school funding. “The court has to be realistic,” he said. “They need to appreciate the current economic condition and where the state finds itself with its budget.”

It could be years before the case is finally decided, and several factors could make it moot before that happens, Mr. Vratil told The Star. Lawmakers could change the school finance formula. Or they could increase funding for schools after the economy recovers.

Kansas isn't the only state where school finances are being challenged. In California, nine school districts, the California School Boards Association, and other groups sued the state last spring, arguing that the education finance system is unconstitutional and fails to provide all students an equal opportunity. School districts in New Mexico have discussed filing a lawsuit there requesting sufficient funding of education.

Vol. 30, Issue 11, Page 5

Published in Print: November 10, 2010, as 63 Kansas School Districts Sue Over Millions in Funding Cuts
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