Parents’ lawsuit over Kansas school finance formula dismissed

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied an attempt by a group of Shawnee Mission parents to get the federal government to intervene in the Kansas school finance formula.

The lawsuit, filed in 2010, sought to toss out local property tax caps that are part of the Kansas school finance formula. The local option tax was capped so wealthy districts wouldn’t have an unfair advantage over poorer ones.

In a ruling that dismissed the Shawnee Mission parents’ arguments as a “kitchen-sink approach,” three federal judges suggested Monday that the cap does not unfairly hamper the district’s ability to operate its schools.

Shawnee Mission parents have held country club fundraisers to help pay for some programs, such as Spanish in elementary schools. Their lawsuit claimed that state funding cuts and limits on what private money can be used for have increased class sizes and forced the closure of schools.

“Displeased with the outcome of school finance litigation in state court, plaintiffs, parents of students in the relatively wealthy Shawnee Mission School District, seek federal intervention to upend decades of effort toward establishing an equitable school finance system in Kansas,” wrote Judge Carlos Lucero.

“Stripped to its pith, plaintiffs’ position is that the U.S. Constitution requires the state of Kansas to grant its political subdivisions unlimited taxing and budget authority. We discern no support for their novel and expansive claims.”

The ruling comes about two months after the Kansas Legislature moved to ditch the 23-year-old school finance formula in favor of a two-year block grant bill. The new system keeps a cap on local option taxes.

As part of a different lawsuit brought by a group of school districts, including Wichita, a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court ruled in December that the funding of Kansas schools is inadequate under the state constitution.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.