Friday, February 8, 2013

Brownback wants school finance case to go to mediation

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

State officials on Thursday asked the Kansas Supreme Court to appoint a mediator to resolve a lower court ruling that said the Legislature has failed to provide suitable finance for public schools and ordered at least a $440 million increase in funding.

Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative Republicans have criticized last month’s decision by a three-judge panel and have proposed measures aimed at thwarting the ruling.

The attorney general’s office had earlier appealed the case to the Kansas Supreme Court and on Thursday filed motions to suspend the lower court decision and send the case to mediation.

Brownback requested the motions.

“While the fact remains that the Kansas Legislature should determine a suitable provision for finance of our schools, I believe we owe it to Kansas taxpayers, parents, teachers and students to examine every available avenue to resolve this dispute to the satisfaction of all involved,” Brownback said.

“It is my hope that through staying the decision and allowing all interested parties to give input on how to best fund our schools and get more money into the classroom, our state will maintain its reputation of having great schools and great educational opportunities for our children,” Brownback said.

But House Democratic Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence, criticized Brownback’s request for mediation.

“Instead of funding schools, Gov. Brownback chose to implement a massive income tax cut last year that primarily benefits the wealthy,” Davis said.

“The court has ruled in favor of Kansas kids on the issue of school finance time and time again, and the governor has made it clear that he disagrees. Today’s motions were just another effort to avoid our constitutional obligation to provide a quality education to our children,” he said.

John Robb, an attorney representing school districts that sued the state, said the schools “are willing to explore anything that might get adequate funding to Kansas kids. The system has been unconstitutional for at least four years now. That is one-third of the education career of a child.”

Robb added, “We are encouraged that the governor is looking outside the box for solutions. We sincerely hope that legislative leaders are on the same page.”

In the motion to the Kansas Supreme Court to stay the order of the three-judge panel, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said, “Everyone — including students, parents, teachers, legislators, and other government officials, and concerned citizens — aspires to satisfy the Kansas constitution’s direction concerning suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of Kansas.”

But, he said, “there are substantial legal and factual disputes in this appeal that bear upon whether that task has been achieved, disputes that need to be resolved ultimately by this court.”

In the motion to send the case to mediation, Schmidt argues that mediation may facilitate a timely resolution of the case while the Legislature is in session and working on the state budget.

Schmidt also said that the confidentiality of the mediation process “will enhance the probability that a settlement can be reached.”