Politics & Government

Judicial panel will review school-funding bill

A three-judge panel will review Wednesday whether the Legislature has satisfied the Supreme Court’s order for more equitable school funding.

The Legislature passed HB 2506 in April in response to a March Supreme Court ruling that declared funding inequities between school districts unconstitutional.

The bill, which was signed into law by Brownback, allocates $129 million to address gaps in capital outlay and local option budget funding between districts. The capital outlay fund is used to improve and maintain school buildings. The local option budget, or LOB, is made up of dollars draw from local property taxes.

If the judges decide that the Legislature has adequately addressed equity, then the case, Gannon v. State of Kansas, will proceed to the unanswered question of whether school funding is adequate. Lawyer John Robb calls that “the main event.”

“Everybody has assumed equity has been met,” Robb, the attorney for Schools for Fair Funding, said.

But if the judges decide the Legislature did not make funding equitable, they have power to halt local option budget funds, which could send school districts into turmoil and potentially necessitate a special session.

Robb, whose practice is based in Newton, said that will depend on what questions the judges ask.

“If you ask, did the Legislature fund those two formulas (capital outlay and local option budget), then the answer is ‘probably’,” Robb said. He said the Legislature had followed current statutes to equalize funding, but that those statutes might not meet the test set by the Supreme Court.

“If instead you ask question two, which is, ‘do the formulas meet the equity test?’ then the answer is clearly no,” Robb said. He said the court ruled that school districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar education through substantially similar tax effort.

Robb said Copeland would have to tax property at about six times the rate of Burlington to raise the maximum level of local option budget funding. “That doesn’t sound to me like substantially similar tax effort to me,” he said.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office would not comment in detail about the case in advance of the hearing, but referred to an earlier statement..

“The Legislature has acted timely and in good faith to fully and conclusively address the inequities in the funding of capital outlay state aid and supplemental general state aid which the Kansas Supreme Court found necessary to satisfy the requirements of Article 6, Section 6 of the Kansas Constitution,” Schmidt wrote in late April. “Because those constitutional infirmities are now cured, there is nothing more for the panel to do with regard to the equity claims.”

Robb said the prospect of a potential legal challenge to other policies placed in the bill creates uncertainty.

“If somebody litigates those and knocks the bill out, well, that knocks out our funding, too,” he said.

The KNEA announced its intent Monday to sue over a portion of the bill that eliminates mandatory hearings before a public school teacher can be fired. David Schauner, the union’s general counsel, said this suit should not affect funding.

But Robb said that would be up to a judge, and that a suit could cause the entire law to be ruled unconstitutional.

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