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Kansas And School Districts Prepare For Supreme Court Showdown On School Finance

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We’re a month away from a Kansas Supreme Courtshowdown on whether the state is providing enough money for public schools.

The final briefs in this part of the case were filed Friday.

The arguments from the school districts and the state haven’t changed much over the years.

The school district plaintiffs, including the Kansas City, Kansas School District, say the state needs to provide more money to make sure all Kansas kids get an equal education.

The state argues it's doing exactly that.

But the latest briefs do contain some unusually colorful language.

The school districts say the state’s case is built on the "factual fallacy" that the Legislature has complied with previous court orders. The brief argues that lawmakers refuse to comply with their constitutional responsibility to fund schools.

"The State refuses to comply with its constitutional obligations and refuses to equitably fund Kansas public education in a manner that complies with the Kansas Constitution," the brief charges.

The districts also say in their brief that even in lean budget times, the Legislature must fund schools based on what's best for education ... "the State’s constitutional duties as to education do not wax and wane based on the state budget."

However, the state says it has complied with previous court orders and that it was up to the Legislature to decide how much is enough to fund public schools. The state also argues in its brief that Kansas students are doing just fine with the amount of money now being spent and says the plaintiff's predictions of an educational decline is overblown.

“The doomsday predictions, however, have proven to be pure hyperbole. Just in the last few weeks, the Kansas Association of School Boards ranked Kansas number five in the country based on an overall average ranking on fourteen national indicators,” the state's brief says.

The state also vigorously argues that the cuts schools claimed as a result of the current block grant funding were not cuts at all, but rather a reduction in what the districts “believe are desirable in an ideal world, while still maintaining large cash reserves.”

A three judge panel in Shawnee Countyruled in June that the state's new block grant funding was unconstitutional. The school funding case has been broken into two parts by the high court. The most recent briefs argue whether the state is funding all school districts roughly the same. Early next year, the justices will hear arguments on whether Kansas is spending enough provide all students an adequate education.

The state supreme court will hear oral arguments on the equity portion of the case Nov. 6.

Sam Zeffcovers education for KCUR 89.3. He's also host of Statehouse Blend, KCUR's political podcast. Follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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