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Schools still plan to sue for funds

School districts plan to continue legal action against the state this summer even though legislators didn't make further cuts to education funding for next school year, according to their attorney.

The first goal of legal action by Schools For Fair Funding, a coalition of 74 districts, was to stop more cuts in state aid, lead attorney John Robb said.

But he said school leaders also want to see the restoration of $303 million in reductions made since January 2009, and, ultimately, a return to the adequate funding levels outlined in a 2006 Legislative Post-Audit report.

"We are appreciative of what the Legislature did," Wichita school board member Lynn Rogers said of no further cuts to state aid.

"In the long term, we need to know where we stand in regard to the Constitution," which requires education be adequately funded, he said.

School leaders said the cuts since 2009 violated an agreement that was the result of a previous lawsuit that called for more school funding.

The state has increased school funding by more than $700 million since 2006, but it came up $25 million short of a three-year funding agreement.

Robb said he plans to file notice to the Legislature about the lawsuit in late June, and then the school group would have to wait four months — or until late October — to officially file suit against the state.

The waiting period to sue the state was instituted in 2005, when the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of schools in the previous funding lawsuit against the Legislature.

"We spent most the legislative session waiting to see what they were going to do," Robb said. "It was not a forgone conclusion" that schools wouldn't face more state aid cuts, which he said would have changed the claims in the lawsuit.

Legislators said it's disappointing that schools continue to pursue legal action after the Legislature approved a 1-cent sales tax increase to avoid cutting more state funding to K-12 education, which makes up more than half of the budget.

Rep. Joe McLeland, R-Wichita, said legislators have done everything they can for education in tough economic times.

"We've got to look at the entire picture — not just one part of it," said McLeland, chairman of the House Education Budget Committee.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said she thinks there will be a "huge outcry of indignation" that schools would continue the suit.

"I'd say get in the real world and help us restore the economy," she said. "It's the only way any (funding) level can be restored."

And with revenue projections down again, Schodorf, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said it will be several years before the state can restore school funding as outlined in state statute.

"You can't have everything right now," she said. "We almost cut prisoners out of prison... the elderly might not be able to eat."

Rogers said the state has other ways to increase school funding than taking away from programs for disabled or elderly people. He said, for example, repealing some tax breaks.

"They have as much constitutional responsibility to fund education as they have to balance the budget," he said.

Schools look long-term because they don't educate students year-by-year but for 13 years, Rogers said.

"All we're really doing is guaranteeing a failing economy in the future" if education funding isn't adequate, he said.

"That's the issue to keep in mind — educating kids into the future."

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