Kansas School Funding Court Hearing Focuses On Block Grants

May 7, 2015

Plaintiff lead lawyer Alan Rupe listens why KCK Superintendent Cynthia Lane testifies.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

While this case has been hanging over the state for the past five years much of the hearing Thursday before a three judge panel in Shawnee County District Court was spent on what has happened in just the past few months.

The four school districts suing the state, including Kansas City, Kansas, have asked the panel to halt further implementation of block grant funding, a school finance plan just passed this year by the legislature.

Block grants would essentially freeze funding for schools across the state while a new formula is written by lawmakers.

KCK Superintendent Cynthia Lane testified for almost 2.5 hours. She said her district stands to lose more than $5 million in state aid over the next two years.

"We know what to do to educate our kids but we don't have the resources to implement those best practices," she said.
The state’s lawyer, Arthur Chalmers from Wichita, did get Lane to admit that some of that $5 million is an estimate, based on an increase in students the district anticipates for next year.

Lane also said that because the district doesn't have enough money, some students don't get all the educational or support services they need. But Chalmers argued that while some students may not be getting everything the district believes they need, all students are being educated.

"You concede that your district has money to meet your kids education and mental needs. Your district is doing something with the money it has," Chalmers said in a testy exchange with Lane.
Lane also stressed that the state still owes KCK $8 million for this year, due before the end of June, and she said she’s pessimistic that the state will make that payment.
Also on the stand Thursday was Dale Dennis, the Kansas State Department of Education Deputy Commissioner who is the state expert on school funding.

Dennis testified about the difference between the old formula and the new block grants.

When the hearing continues Friday Dennis will be cross-examined and than the superintendent from Hutchinson will testify about how block grants will financially hurt her district.

Courtroom odds and ends

  • This case was filed in 2010 and many people in the courtroom know each other. This prompted Judge Franklin Theis to quip before the hearing started "we've all been together a long time."
  • Two other superintendents were in the courtroom. Dr. Shelly Kiblinger from Hutchinson and John Allison from Wichita.
  • While the judges banned Tweeting from the courtroom everyone was free to take as many pictures of the proceedings as they liked.
  • While it was clear that the walls of the basement courtroom in the Shawnee County Courthouse used to be lined with portraits, now only a portrait of Abraham Lincoln remains. Nobody knows why.