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State asks Kansas courts for mediation in school case

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, at 12:47 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

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Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed two motions with the Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday, requesting mediation of the dispute over school finance litigation and a stay of the decision issued last month, in which a three-judge panel said state funding for public schools is unconstitutionally low.

The filings were made at the request of Gov. Sam Brownback, officials said in a news release.

“While the fact remains that the Kansas Legislature should determine a suitable provision for finance of our schools, I believe we owe it to Kansas taxpayers, parents, teachers and students to examine every available avenue to resolve this dispute to the satisfaction of all involved,” Brownback said in the written statement.

“It is my hope that through staying the decision and allowing all interested parties to give input on how to best fund our schools and get more money into the classroom, our state will maintain its reputation of having great schools and great educational opportunities for our children.”

A lead attorney for the school districts suing the state told Wichita school board members last month that he expected state officials to ask for a stay to delay major funding increases until the Kansas Supreme Court rules on the matter.

“It essentially hits the pause button,” said John Robb, lead attorney for Schools For Fair Funding, a coalition of 52 Kansas districts including Wichita. “We will oppose the stay. We think the kids have waited long enough.”

The ruling calls current school funding levels unconstitutional “beyond any question,” Robb said. It calls for lawmakers to raise the base per-pupil state aid from $3,838 to $4,492, at a cost of about $437 million statewide.

Wichita’s share of the court-ordered increases in base state aid, capital outlay matching funds and other monies would be about $59 million, Robb said.

Responding to the attorney general’s motions Thursday, Robb said plaintiffs would be “willing to explore anything that might get adequate funding to Kansas kids.

“The system has been unconstitutional for at least four years now. That is one-third of the education career of a child,” Robb said in an e-mail.

“We are encouraged that the governor is looking outside the box for solutions. We sincerely hope that legislative leaders are on the same page.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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