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Kansas school finance trial ends, goes to judges

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Wednesday, August 29, 2012, at 2:17 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, August 29, 2012, at 5:20 p.m.

TOPEKA – Inadequate state funding for school districts could lead to an inadequate education for an entire generation of Kansas kids, Alan Rupe, a Wichita lawyer hired by school districts, told a panel of three Shawnee County district judges Wednesday.

That’s “hyperbole,” said Arthur Chalmers, a Wichita lawyer hired by the state. In some cases, student test scores go up when funding falls and scores fall when funding increases, he said.

“When times are hard, you find ways to make do,” he said.

The clashing views cut to the heart of final arguments in a lawsuit in which Wichita and 53 other school districts contend state cuts to school funding violate the state constitution by failing to give all students a “suitable” education.

Judges said it probably will take 60 to 90 days before they rule on the case, which was filed in 2010. After that, many expect the case to go to the state Supreme Court.

Rupe, who represents the school districts, said the Legislature cut funding at a time when costs and demands on the education system have increased.

“I think that’s an abdication of their responsibility,” he said.

Lawmakers have cut $511 million in school funding, and the current financing is unconstitutional, he argued in a packed courtroom in the basement of the Shawnee County District Courthouse.

“The fact is there are thousands and thousands and thousands of kids who are ending up with an inadequate education because of these funding cuts,” he said.

He ripped the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback for approving a massive income tax cut earlier this year when schools were suffering.

“There’s no constitutional mandate for a tax cut,” he said.

Tests show Kansas students are falling behind on tests, Rupe said, noting that 20 percent of students weren’t proficient in 11th grade math.

“When you add money, it improves,” he said. “When you take it away, it decreases.”

Chalmers said that is a flawed concept.

He said funding has increased to near-record levels when considering all sources of money. He acknowledged state cuts, but he said that they were necessary because of the recession.

Since the state’s accreditation system has a definition of what “suitable” education means and all state schools are accredited, the state is not violating the constitution, Chalmers argued.

He acknowledged the state still has achievement gaps between different demographics of students.

“The Kansas gap is smaller than in other states,” he said. “It exists. But those issues can’t be wiped away with more money.

“If you just give money and don’t know how it’s spent, there’s no guarantee on improved outcomes,” he said.

The state spends more than half its budget on schools, Chalmers said.

“I don’t think we can conclude that it’s giving short shrift to education,” he said. “I’m not up here telling you education in the U.S. is perfect. What I’m telling you that constitutionally, Kansas is funding it and moving in the right direction.”

Reach Brent Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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