School Districts Call Kansas Legislature's Attempt To Fix Inequity A 'Shell Game'

Apr 25, 2016

The final brief has been filed in the equity portion of the Kansas school funding lawsuit. The state Supreme Court has set oral arguments for May 10.
Credit Stephan Koranda / KPR

The final paperwork has been filed, and now Kansas educators and lawmakers await the May 10 showdown in the state Supreme Court over whether the state is equitably funding public education.

In a 208 page brief filed today with the Court, the plaintiff districts, including Kansas City, Kansas, say the bill passed in the Legislature's waning days does nothing more than move money around the system, could widen the gap between rich and poor districts, calling the whole attempt a "shell game".

“In essence, then, the Legislature simply re-named the aid. Thus, the result for most school districts is the exact same amount of money that the district was expecting to receive under the block grants,” the brief argues.

When lawmakers passed the bill, many said they took the court's advice when it ruled much of the block grant funding scheme unconstitutional and that inequity among districts could be fixed by reverting back to the old formula.

However, the districts say it's impossible to equalize funding without adding money to a system that was, as previous courts ruled, underfunded.

The state's brief also says the Legislature followed the Supreme Court's suggestion of creating a record of Legislative debate to show its work.

But the districts' brief takes the Legislature to task for trying to mollify the court by using a transcriptionist to create a record of their work .

The high court has said if equity isn't solved by June 30 it will shut down school districts. The districts don't dispute that the court has that power, but they also say that action "would have detrimental and long-lasting effects on both Kansas school districts and their students."

The plaints ask that if the Court does shut down schools on June 30 that the districts be allowed to pay some bills, such as bond and lease payments, utilities, security and some employees.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.