- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Months of speculation and anxiety over the fate of the funding of Kansas public schools will become clearer Friday when the state Supreme Court issues a ruling in case that has dragged on for nearly four years.

The court, which heard arguments in the case in October, announced Thursday that a ruling would be posted at 9:30 a.m. Friday on the court’s website. The justices are not scheduled to publicly discuss their decision.

Originally filed in 2010 by attorneys representing four school districts and parents, a lawsuit alleged that the state reneged on promises made in 2006 to provide a certain level of funding the Kansas’ public schools, namely that the failure to provide money for classroom instruction has harmed the state’s education system - including programs aimed at helping poor and minority students.

A three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court said in January 2013 that Kansas must increase school funding by at least $440 million to comply with levels that were specified in state law, but the decision was put on hold pending an appeal with the Kansas Supreme Court. Legislators delayed any decisions on school funding until after a final judgment.

John Robb, a lead attorney representing parents and school districts in the case, said the lower court was clear that the state needed to boost funding, but he cautioned, “You never know.”

Senate President Susan Wagle said legislators, who’ve been anticipating a ruling since this session began in January, would need time to digest the ruling and prepare a response, regardless of how the court rules.

“I was worried about getting it at the end of the session,” said Wagle, a Wichita Republican. “I’m thankful that we are getting it before our budgets are done.”

Kansas currently spends more than $3 billion for education in 286 school districts.

State attorneys argued that legislators did the best they could to maintain education spending in the wake of the Great Recession, which started in 2008 and reduced available revenues. They pointed to efforts to raise the state sales tax rate in 2010 and the reliance on federal stimulus funding to keep spending stable.

Wagle said she was hopeful that the courts had taken into consideration all the of funding that school districts receive, not just focus on one line item, when reaching its ruling.

“That’s our biggest concern,” she said.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat running for governor, said a discussion about school funding was “long overdue” and the delay in restoring cuts in education funding were causing class sizes and school fees to grow.

“Kansas parents, kids, teachers and business leaders don’t need a court order to tell us to fund our schools,” Davis said. “Providing our kids with a world class public education is both a moral and constitutional obligation.”

The state Supreme Court’s ruling is the second one in a decade that has policy and fiscal implications for legislators and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. In 2006, the state responded to a Supreme Court ruling by drafting a plan that would put Kansas on a path to increase education funding by nearly $1 billion, but lacked a funding mechanism to sustain the increases.

Brownback has repeatedly said that school funding was the state’s equivalent of providing for national defense at the federal level, and said Thursday in a news release that was his motivation for giving more money to all-day kindergarten classes, which he called “the centerpiece of my agenda for the 2014 legislative session.” He didn’t specifically address the impending ruling, but said that he prefers to target any additional education funding toward achieving specific goals, in this case boosting elementary reading proficiency.

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