The Wichita school district will continue to help finance a lawsuit against the state over school funding, but one board member delivered an impassioned speech against what she called a “cycle of lawsuits” and voted against the measure Monday.
Joy Eakins first pulled a resolution off the board’s consent agenda that called for the district to spend up to $6 per student per year – about $148,000 this year – to continue its membership in Schools for Fair Funding, a coalition of districts suing the state.
Wichita is one of 46 districts helping to finance the lawsuit, Gannon v. State of Kansas, which says that current levels of school funding violate the state Constitution and deprive students of a suitable education.
“I’ve done a lot of thinking about what this side-taking is doing for us,” Eakins said.
“Since 1972, we’ve been in this cycle of lawsuits in our state. … And, personally, I think choosing sides and making each other evil and having factions isn’t getting us where I think we need to be.
“Sometimes there’s a time, when there’s a lot of conflict, to sit down and for everyone to put everything on the table and have conversations and to figure out a way forward,” she said. “I realize that some people may think that’s naive. … But that is what we need to do. We need to have a conversation in this state around financing and to fix these things in a different way.”
Over the past five years, the Wichita district has paid more than $1 million to help fund Schools for Fair Funding and its lawsuit against the state, district officials said.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in March that gaps in funding among school districts were unconstitutional. It ordered the Legislature to come up with a solution before July 1, and the Legislature passed a bill in April that put $129 million toward addressing the gaps. In June, a three-judge panel found that the Legislature had satisfied the Supreme Court order.
School board members voted 6-1 Monday to continue financing the lawsuit. Board member Lynn Rogers said the suit “continues to be a last resort, unfortunately.”
“I can appreciate Ms. Eakins’ comments. I don’t think she’s necessarily naive, but we have been there and we have done that,” Rogers said. “We have talked ad nauseum with our legislators … because they refuse to deal with the issue.”
He said a recent influx of capital outlay money and other funding to districts from the state could be attributed directly to the Gannon lawsuit.
The lawsuit now moves on to the bigger question of whether overall school funding is adequate, Rogers said.
“If we pull (out) at this point, I think we’re sending a message that we will take whatever they want to give us. They can pass any law they want to pass, and they don’t have to follow it,” he said. “All we’re asking them to do is to obey the (school finance) laws that they passed.”
Other districts helping to pay for the lawsuit include Hutchinson, Dodge City and Kansas City, Kan.