Monday, August 26, 2013

Three education groups to file amicus briefs in school finance case

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday gave permission for three education groups to file amicus, or "friend of the court," briefs in the pending school finance lawsuit.

The groups include the Kansas Association of School Boards, the Emporia school district, and the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

All three are expected to urge the court to uphold the ruling of a three-judge lower court panel which said that the state's current funding of public schools is unconstitutionally low, and ordering the state to increase funding by upwards of half a billion dollars a year.

That ruling in January came after a month-long trial the previous summer which focused primarily on how cuts in base state aid, local-option budget funding and capital outlay funding had affected larger urban districts including Kansas City, Kan., Wichita, Hutchinson and Dodge City - all districts with high poverty rates and large numbers of non-English speaking students.

The suit was brought by Kansans for Fair Funding, a coalition of school districts that includes the Emporia district.

Robert Scheib, assistant superintendent for business services at Emporia, told the Journal-World earlier that even though that district is part of the plaintiffs group, it wanted to file its own amicus brief to show specifically how cuts in LOB and capital outlay funding had affected them.

Kansas statutes provide for "equalization" aid in both of those categories so that poorer districts can raise the same amount of money as wealthier districts with roughly the same property tax levy.

But in recent years, the Kansas Legislature has not fully funded LOB equalization, and it has ceased funding capital outlay equalization altogether.

 That means poorer districts either have to impose higher property taxes than wealthier districts or cut their budgets.

So far, no outside groups that hope to overturn the lower court ruling, and to sustain the current level of funding, have sought to file amicus briefs.

The deadline for those briefs to be submitted is Sept. 6. Oral arguments before the Court are scheduled for Oct. 8, and a ruling is expected around the first of the year.