News Column

Judges satisfied on equity issue of school funding

June 11, 2014

By Bryan Lowry, The Wichita Eagle

June 11--TOPEKA -- A three-judge panel found that the Legislature had satisfied a Supreme Court order to make school funding more equitable at a hearing Wednesday.

The Supreme Court ruled in March that gaps between school districts in funding were unconstitutional. It ordered the Legislature to come up with a solution before July 1. The Legislature passed a bill in April that puts $129 million toward addressing the gaps.

The panel's decision to accept lawmakers' solution means that there will be no need for a special session and that school districts can count on receiving their local option budget funds on July 1 at the start of the new fiscal year.

"I think what the Legislature deserves is a pat on the back," said Arthur Chalmers, an attorney representing the state, during the hearing.

However, the court did not dismiss that part of an ongoing school finance case, as the state's lawyers had asked. The judges just said they would "take no further action" at this time.

John Robb, an attorney for the plaintiffs' group Schools for Fair Funding, said keeping the case open will allow school districts to hold the Legislature accountable in the future.

Gannon v. State of Kansas will now move on to the bigger question of whether school funding is adequate. The judges have not yet decided whether to rely on previously presented evidence or to hold a new trial to answer this question.

"This was a preliminary deal. And now it's on to the full meal deal. It's off to the adequacy thing, which is why we filed the lawsuit in the first place," Robb said.

The bill adding funding also included several controversial policies, including an elimination of state-mandated hearings before a public school teacher's contract can be terminated. The Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, announced plans to sue over this and other policies in the bill.

Judge Franklin Theis said the bill included a clause that said if other portions of the law are found unconstitutional, the funding will be left intact.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.


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Source: Wichita Eagle (KS)

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