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Shawnee Mission School District Says It's Crippled By School Funding System

Emory Maiden

You might be surprised to hear it, but the Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) says it's in a funding crisis that has had a "crippling" effect on everything from class size to property values in the district.

The surprising admission comes in a friend-of-the- court brief the district filed with the Kansas Supreme Court in the pending school finance case.

"The Kansas school finance system's underfunding, coupled with the Spending Cap, results in a significant detriment to districts like SMSD," the district argues in its brief. "The funding crisis has led to a crippling loss of teachers, loss of foreign language programs, larger class sizes, closure
of neighborhood schools, and loss of property values."

The court will decide whether Kansas is equitably funding public education. The state Constitution essentially mandates that all students in the state have the same educational opportunities. The plaintiff districts, including Kansas City Kansas Public Schools, say the Legislature must spend more on education to level the playing field. The state argues there is equity and it's in compliance with all previous high court orders.

But Shawnee Mission says it should be free to raise as much tax money as it wants. State law caps how much local school districts can raise with property taxes. The state, according to the district's brief, punishes districts "in areas of relatively higher property wealth by awarding them less per-pupil funding."

The district also argues the cap violates the free speech clauses of the federal and state constitutions.

In short, the SMSD wants the high court to abolish the cap.

The brief uses the rather colorful language the parties in the case have been accustomed to deploying. Shawnee Mission says just because there is a "bare minimum of education required by the Kansas Constitution" doesn't mean districts shouldn't be allowed to "exceed the bare minimum." It then urges the court to "reject that reasoning and the discriminatory,Procrustean vision it embodies."

In other words, students in Shawnee Mission shouldn't be forced to conform with the rest of Kansas.

The Supreme Court has ruled that Shawnee Mission cannot intervene in the case, so it's hard to say how much weight the justices will give to the district's brief.

Oral arguments for this portion of the case are scheduled for Nov. 6.

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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