Districts ask Supreme Court to reopen school funding lawsuit

A group of Kansas school districts filed a motion to re-open a school funding lawsuit, claiming recent budget cuts violate the state's constitution.

The motion to reopen the "Montoy" case was filed Monday afternoon at the Kansas Supreme Court, said John Robb, lead attorney of Schools For Funding.

Legislators started the 2010 session in Topeka also on Monday afternoon.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, predicted the lawsuit would cause some backlash from lawmakers.

"To file a lawsuit like this is shortcutting and circumventing the process," said Schodorf, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.

More than 50 school districts, including Wichita, have agreed to pay for the litigation against the state, which is estimated to cost $500,000 a year.

School districts will pay less than $3.20 per student for legal fees this year, Robb said.

The coalition is asking the Kansas Supreme Court to reopen a lawsuit it decided in 2005, when it ordered the Legislature to substantially increase education funding.

Before last year's cuts, the state' K-12 schools had received an additional $600 million since 2006 as a result.

The action asks the Supreme Court to consider two questions: Is the current funding system constitutional in light of its 2005 school finance decision? And are budget cuts since 2009 constitutional?

The motion claims legislators had no plans to fulfill their promise to increase education funding by $423.3 million in 2009. Instead, state aid to schools was cut by $426.6 million, according to Schools For Fair Funding.

Schools say the Legislature could have avoided some of the shortfalls by not passing tax exemptions and cuts that have take $180 million a year out of the state's revenue stream since 2005.

The state's actions have shown "blatant disregard" for the state constitution, Kansas law and court orders, the motion states.

If the Supreme Court won't reopen the case, the coalition would file a new lawsuit, Robb said.

As revenue fell far below projections last year, the state cut spending by about $1 billion. It still faces a potential $358.7 million shortfall for the 2011 budget year, which begins July 1.

"We don't want to cut education, but our job is broader than education — it is how we fund SRS, how we fund Medicaid, prisons, safety, water quality, KDHE," Schodorf said. "It's bigger than education, but education is 50 percent of the budget."

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, has said he opposes further cuts in education and other state services, and has called for the Republican-controlled Legislature to increase cigarette taxes and end some tax breaks.

Legislators have shown great reluctance in the past year to consider any tax increases.