skip to nav skip to content
Whether through judges or mediators, a decision will eventually bring an answer to school funding in Kansas.
But even after that potential hurdle is leaped, more may come.
The school funding battle has, through various lawsuits, been debated since the late 1980s. This year, a three-judge panel ruled that the state's current funding levels are unconstitutional.
"The part of the system that is unconstitutional is not the formula," said John Robb, lawyer at Somers, Robb and Robb in Newton and a member of the general council for Schools for Fair Funding. "The formula, the court said, is just fine. They're just not putting enough funding into the formula to make it work.
"You can buy the best car on the face of the planet, but if you don't put gas in it, it won't go anywhere. A formula is much the same way. We've got a perfectly adequate formula. The legislature is just not putting enough gas in it to make it work."
The state filed a stay - the equivalent of a "pause" button - on that ruling before later appealing to the Kansas Supreme Court. State Rep. Ward Cassidy (St. Francis - R) said it makes sense for courts to rule whether the formula is fair, but not to decide how the state spends its money.
"I question whether they have the right to tell us exactly how many dollars to spend, especially when you're in recessionary times," Cassidy said. "I don't think people want more taxes to pay for this."
The current base state aid per pupil is $3,838. A trial court ruled it should be $4,492. Kansas would need to provide about $500 million a year to bring its funding back to levels before cuts were made in recent years.
Cassidy said property and sales taxes would jump up if the state funded those levels. He said there is no guarantee the legislature would listen to that ruling, either - instead opting to send the issue to the federal supreme court.
"I think when we've had money, the legislature over the years has been pretty fair with distributing money," Cassidy said. "There is a whole lot of people wanting a piece of this pie, and to try to be fair with everybody, and education, is really a challenging task for the legislature."
Cassidy said there are 98 agencies to fund other than education.
"When higher ed and K-12 is 61, 62 percent of the budget, they're certainly going to be affected," he said.
Robb said the state could get the money if it wanted to.
"When someone says the state doesn't have any money, what they're really saying is the state is choosing not to go get the money," Robb said. "They have the ability to go get the money and fund the schools."
The two sides are also heading to mediation, trying to resolve the issue out of court. Robb calls the move a "parallel step" - one that does not benefit, or necessarily help, but might move the parties closer to an answer in the future.
"I think we're agreeable to anything that might move the ball down the field and help the kids of Kansas," Robb said.
The Kansas Supreme Court will hear briefs on May 15. Oral arguments are set for Oct. 8. A court decision is expected late this year, or early in 2014.
Cassidy said the legislature is facing a tough task. A high school principal for 20 years, Cassidy said it is just an argument of dollars and cents.
"I haven't met a legislator up here yet that doesn't like kids and doesn't want to provide a good education," he said.