Politics & Government

State formally appeals Kansas school funding ruling

A court ruling that Kansas schools are unconstitutionally underfunded fails to take into account some sources of funding, Attorney General Derek Schmidt contended in the state’s formal appeal of the ruling Wednesday.

A three-judge panel ruled in December that the state’s school funding is “inadequate from any rational perspective” based on evidence and recommended that lawmakers increase base education aid.

Conservatives decried the decision, and Schmidt’s office first filed a notice of appeal in late January. The paperwork filed Wednesday lays out the attorney general’s arguments against the ruling, which Schmidt called “legally flawed and inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s prior instruction.”

“The Panel continues to second-guess the fiscal and policy judgments made by elected officials. The Panel did not properly consider the hundreds of millions of dollars Kansas schools received from other sources such as federal funding and state funds that support schools in ways other than base state aid,” the filing states. “The Panel also refused to consider the millions of dollars that some districts held and continue to hold in reserve funds.”

Since the panel’s ruling, Gov. Sam Brownback has reduced school funding 1.5 percent in the face of a budget shortfall, dropping the amount of base state aid per pupil from $3,852 to $3,811.

This move prompted Schools for Fair Funding, the group that represents districts pushing for more funding, to seek to reopen the already-settled part of the lawsuit that deals with equity among districts. The matter will go before the three-judge panel on March 5, said John Robb, the group’s attorney.

“We look forward to the Supreme Court affirming the trial court that the school finance being underfunded is unconstitutional,” Robb said in response to Schmidt’s appeal.

Robb also touched on Brownback’s proposal to shift the state to a block grant system of funding schools as a way to end school finance litigation while lawmakers develop a new formula.

“It really doesn’t matter whether it’s the new formula or the old formula or a block grant, it’s the underfunding of the schools that’s unconstitutional, and that’s what the Supreme Court is going to find.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.