Education

Wichita district leaders praise court ruling on school finance

Cathy Boote, a kindergarten teacher at Christa McAuliffe Academy in Wichita, helps students with a craft project. A Kansas Supreme Court ruling could mean millions more in funding for Wichita schools.
Cathy Boote, a kindergarten teacher at Christa McAuliffe Academy in Wichita, helps students with a craft project. A Kansas Supreme Court ruling could mean millions more in funding for Wichita schools. The Wichita Eagle

Leaders of the state’s largest school district praised a Kansas Supreme Court ruling Monday, saying a call for a new school funding formula will be good for students.

“It looks like we might get some more money, which is a good thing,” said Mike Rodee, president of the Wichita school board. “We’re not funded adequately, so personally I think it’s going to be good for students.”

The court ruled Monday that state lawmakers’ efforts to provide adequate funding for schools still falls short of constitutional requirements. The decision will send the issue back to the Legislature with orders to add more funding, which could mean millions for the state’s largest district.

Alicia Thompson, superintendent for Wichita schools, commended the court on its deliberation and its final decision.

“This has been a lengthy and complex case, which has at its heart the future of our state,” Thompson said during a Monday evening news conference at North High School in Wichita.

“We have nearly 500,000-plus public school students in the state of Kansas, and the future sits in our classrooms today,” she said “For Kansas’ economy to be prosperous, we must be able to embrace the notion that the solution to our workforce challenges sits in our classrooms.”

State Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita, who also serves on the Wichita school board, said he was “not surprised at all” by Monday’s ruling, but troubled that lawmakers have next spring to fix inequities.

“Last time, we took every minute possible (to address school funding), and our schools deserve better,” Rogers said.

He said he hopes legislators get right to work crafting a new school finance formula and figuring out how to fund it.

“We cannot afford to keep making the same mistake,” Rogers said. “Every time the state delays and shortchanges kids, it costs our economy and our state much, much more in the long run.”

Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, the local teachers union, expressed similar frustration over the court giving legislators until next spring to craft a new formula.

“At some point, those who are in charge of funding public education need to stand up and be grown-ups and think about those who aren’t,” Wentz said. “It’s been long enough.”

This year’s budget for Wichita schools – about $682 million – was approved in August. It included a $28 million boost in state aid, which paid for more teachers, enhanced technology, a new reading curriculum, expanded after-school programs and a team focused on helping youngsters who have experienced trauma.

Alan Rupe, an attorney for Schools for Fair Funding, the coalition of districts which sued the state, praised Monday’s ruling.

“With all the bad news out there, this is really good news for Kansas and great news for Kansas kids,” Rupe said.

“The court has told the Legislature that the current system of funding schools in inadequate, it’s unconstitutional, and told them to fix it,” he said.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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