- Associated Press - Friday, April 25, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked a judicial panel Friday to dismiss part of an education funding lawsuit against the state now that it has enacted a plan to boost aid to poor school districts.

Schmidt filed his request with a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court. His move came the same day presiding District Judge Franklin Theis set a June 11 hearing on whether the funding plan satisfies a Kansas Supreme Court order last month in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by parents and school districts.

The Supreme Court ruled that past, recession-driven cuts in aid to poor school districts created unconstitutional gaps in funding between poor districts and wealthier ones. The plan - approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature earlier this month and signed into law this week by GOP Gov. Sam Brownback - reverses those past cuts to provide an additional $129 million to poor districts during the 2014-15 school year.

The Supreme Court last month returned the lawsuit to the panel in Shawnee County for further hearings on whether Kansas is providing enough total aid to all school districts to meet its duty under the state constitution to provide a suitable education for every child. The high court also said there would be further lower-court review of the plan to help poor school districts if lawmakers did something other than fully reverse the past cuts.

Schmidt wrote in his filing that the gaps between poor districts and wealthier ones had been “cured” by the new school funding plan and, “there is nothing more for the panel to do with regard to the equity claims.”

John Robb, a Newton attorney representing the parents and districts suing the state, said he and their other lawyers are studying Theis‘ order to determine how to proceed.

But Robb said Theis‘ order scheduling the hearing suggests the lower-court panel will examine the entire school funding plan, including education policy provisions attached to the funding provisions in a single bill.

“The question appears to be whether all the policy items in the bill weigh the bill down so much, in the court’s eyes, that it sinks the entire bill,” Robb said in an email to The Associated Press.

Brownback and other supporters of the bill have focused on its potential to provide more dollars for Kansas classrooms and to allow districts to lower local property tax levies used to supplement state funding. But GOP conservatives insisted on attaching some policy changes.

The state will provide up to $10 million in income tax credits to corporations bankrolling private-school scholarships for poor or at-risk students, create a new commission to hunt for efficiencies in public-school operations and set up an expedited teacher-licensing process for professionals with expertise in subjects such as science, math and engineering.

Also, tenure for public school teachers will be eliminated in July. Teachers facing dismissal after three years in the classroom no longer will be entitled automatically to have their cases reviewed by an independent hearing officer. Brownback and many GOP lawmakers contend the change leaves tenure decisions to local districts, but the state’s largest teachers’ union contends teachers will be stripped of protections against arbitrary firings.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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