Kansas Supreme Court hears arguments on school funding - KCTV5 News

Kansas Supreme Court hears arguments on school funding

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The court ruled in October that the state's current education funding of more than $4 billion a year isn't sufficient under the Kansas Constitution, even with an increase approved last year. (AP) The court ruled in October that the state's current education funding of more than $4 billion a year isn't sufficient under the Kansas Constitution, even with an increase approved last year. (AP)
TOPEKA, KS (KCTV/AP) -

Kansas lawmakers are looking for hopeful hints from the state Supreme Court that they've increased education funding enough to satisfy the justices and head off any potential threat of a court order shuttering public schools.

But attorneys for four school districts suing the state were preparing to argue Tuesday that the plan lawmakers and Gov. Jeff Colyer settled on this spring, a $548 million increase phased in over five years, still falls as much as $1.5 billion short of providing a suitable education for every child. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by the districts in 2010, when this year's high school graduates were fifth-graders.

Seven justices listened to the state's plan Tuesday. Three were skeptical that the number is adequate under the state's constitution. Others said there is a lot of frustration built up around the lawsuit.

"It goes back to the history of this case This is kind of a deja vu. We have all been here before," one justice said.

Graduation rate was a key argument for school officials, as they presented a study showing that increasing the number to $2 billion over five years would grow the state's rate to 95 percent.

School leaders in Kansas City, KS, say, after factoring in inflation, $100 million per year is not nearly enough to make sure all kids in the state have a suitable education.

“If they're adding only $100 million a year, or a little bit more, they're just keeping up with inflation or a little bit more. And, the question is, is that really adequate to get all students to high standards,” asked David Smith of KCK Public Schools. “$200 million to $300 million over probably the next four to five years would probably get us close and then, of course, we've got to continue to keep up with inflation.”

The court ruled in October that the state's current education funding of more than $4 billion a year isn't sufficient under the Kansas Constitution, even with an increase approved last year. The school districts want the justices to declare that legislators are still short — and to order lawmakers to approve more spending by the end of June.

School leaders say if the process takes too long, schools like Frank Rushton Elementary in KCK, may not be able to open in the coming school year.

"We've raised our expectations for a number of kids graduating and what they're able to do when they graduate and those are the right things to do for our kids and for the state," Smith said. "But, if we're serious about that then we have to find the resources to make that happen."

Smith says those resources are key for students to have the opportunities they need to be successful.

“Our kids would have a lot more experiences that would get them prepared for both college and for careers and we look forward to having the resources to do what our kids need,” he said. 

The justices have promised only to issue their next ruling by June 30. In past hearings, they've peppered attorneys for the state and the school districts with questions and have not been shy about expressing frustration with lawmakers.

"What we are interested in is having the Legislature live up to the court's charge," said Alan Rupe, the school districts' lead attorney. "What the Legislature has come up with is a plan that falls way short."

Colyer, who is Republican, and the GOP-controlled Legislature have worried that if the court isn't satisfied, it will declare that the state cannot distribute its education dollars through an unconstitutional funding formula — effectively keeping schools closed until legislators approve a fix.

The court threatened to do just that in 2016 to get lawmakers to increase aid to poor school districts. But Rep. Fred Patton, a Topeka Republican and chairman of a special House committee on school funding, said he would be shocked if the court went that far this time.

"You cannot argue that we did not put in a substantial amount of money and school districts won't benefit," Patton said.

But the districts' attorneys note that a study commission by legislators this year said improving schools could cost as much as $2 billion more a year, depending on the state's ambitions for improving standardized test scores and graduation rates.

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