- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state must spend more money on public schools to meet requirements of the state constitution, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The court did not say how much additional money would be necessary for the state to have a constitutional school finance system, or exactly what other changes are required. But it said the Legislature must take action by April 12 to “fulfill its constitutional duty” to improve public education in Kansas, or the court could impose steps of its own.

“It is clear increased funding will be required; however, increased funding may not in and of itself make the financing formula constitutionally suitable,” the court said in a unanimous, unsigned opinion.

The Kansas Constitution says the Legislature must make “suitable provision” for financing its schools.

Kansas spends $2.7 billion annually on education from kindergarten through high school, under a formula that gives districts extra dollars for special needs, such as programs for poor and minority children. In addition, Kansas’ 301 school districts now raise more than $570 million per year from property taxes.

Attorney General Phill Kline described the ruling as a victory for the state. He said the court left education policy to the Legislature and governor, preserved local boards’ control over schools and upheld the philosophy behind the formula, whatever its flaws.

But Alan Rupe, the lead attorney for the parents and administrators who sued the state, called it “a touchdown home run.”

“There’s no way around the fact that the winners in this case are the Kansas school kids, and the losers are the legislators who have not lived up to their constitutional responsibility,” he said. “Their day of reckoning is here.”

Kansas is one of 24 states facing lawsuits over education funding, including Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York and Texas, according to the Access Project, a New York group promoting increased education funding.

The Kansas high court said the state’s school finance formula is based not on what it costs to educate students “but rather on political and other factors not relevant to education.”

But it found that it does not intentionally discriminate against poor and minority students. Parents and administrators in the Dodge City and Salina school districts, who sued the state in 1999, had claimed such discrimination made the formula unconstitutional.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, said legislators must be careful in their response, but need to act quickly, because “continued uncertainty puts our schools at risk and harms our economy.”

A year ago, a lower court also had ordered changes in the school financing system. When the legislators did not take action in their spring session last year, the judge issued an order that could have shut down schools until the problems were fixed.

The state Supreme Court quickly placed that order on hold, allowing the 2004-05 school year to proceed as it considered the state’s appeal.

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