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Wednesday, January 16, 2013 5

De Soto district encouraged by school finance ruling By Peter Hancock phancock@theworldco.info

De Soto school district officials say they are encouraged by Friday’s court ruling that the Kansas Legislature has violated its constitutional duty to provide suitable funding for public schools. But there may be a long way to go before schools see any increase in state aid, said Superintendent Doug Sumner. “We realize the process is far from complete,� Sumner said in a written statement provided to The Dispatch. “The possiblity that the state’s investment in our schools and children could increase is uplifting and will no doubt lead to expanded opportunities for students.� In a 326-page opinion, a three-judge panel, ruling in the case of Gannon vs. Kansas, effectively ordered the Legislature to fund public schools at $4,492 per pupil, about $600 higher per pupil than present funding levels. Dale Dennis, deputy education commissioner in charge of finance and administration, said complying with that part of the court’s ruling would cost $442 million per year. In a written statement, the Shawnee Mission school district said it expected the decision to be appealed, and that is certainly the case, said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt Friday. “Today’s ruling has enormous consequences for the state of Kansas,� Schmidt said. Neither the De Soto or Shawnee Mission school districts were involved in the lawsuit. In a statement, Gov. Brownback called the decision “disappointing� and said: “Through today’s ruling, the courts are drastically increasing the property tax burden on every Kansan. The Kansas Legislature, not the courts, has the power of the purse and has, in fact, increased total state funding for schools every year during my administration. The legislative process is the appropriate venue for debating and resolving issues of taxation and spending.� Article 6, Section 6 of the Kansas Constitution requires the Legislature to make “suitable provision for the finance� of public education. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the state must base education funding on actual costs of providing required educational services, but the Legislature has steadily cut school funding over the past few years. Friday’s ruling echoes the Supreme Court decision. Currently, schools are receiving $3,838 per pupil — about 16 percent below the statutory requirement. John Robb, lead attorney for Kansans for Fair Funding, the coalition of school districts that filed the lawsuit in 2010, hailed the decision as a victory for children. “I feel really good for the kids in Kansas,� Robb said. “For the third time in 20 years, their rights have been vindicated. It takes a long time, but ... I’m happy for them that some-

body finally recognizes that their constitutional rights do mean something.� The court also said lawmakers have violated the constitution by refusing to fund “equalization� aid for capital outlay budgets — dollars that school districts spend on big-ticket purchases such as building repairs, equipment purchases and, in some cases, new construction. As a result, the court declared the entire statute dealing with capital outlay budgets “unconstitutional and of no force and effect from and after July 1, 2013,� unless the Legislature acts to fully fund the equalization aid. House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said he also was “encouraged� by the panel’s decision, and said its opinion pointed out that “Gov. Brownback’s tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations directly conflict with our constitutional duty to fund public schools.� Last May, Brownback signed into law cuts in the state income tax rate and elimination of income taxes paid by nearly 200,000 business owners. Davis said he hoped Brownback will focus on efforts to ensure that Kansas children receive a quality education and “not on punitive measures aimed at our courts.� Brownback supports measures that would give him more say in picking appellate judges. House Republican leaders said the judges overstepped their authority. “The House is committed to ensuring a quality education for all Kansas students and will work tirelessly to achieve that goal,� House Speakerelect Ray Merrick of Stilwell said. “However, the Legislature, not the court system, has the duty of balancing the critical funding needs of all Kansans when appropriating tax dollars.� Friday’s opinion, written by Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis, reflects guidelines handed down by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2005 when it ruled in the case Montoy vs. Kansas that the Legislature has a constitutional duty to base funding on the actual cost of providing all the educational services required by law. Although the current funding law calls for base funding of schools at that level, Kansas lawmakers have not appropriated enough money to fund schools since the economic downturn began in 2008. Instead, lawmakers have appropriated smaller amounts of money in the state budget, resulting in pro-rated funding for schools. Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said Monday that Republican leaders are considering putting a constitutional amendment on the April 2 ballot aimed at thwarting a court-ordered increase in school funding. — Scott Rothschild and Dispatch staff reporter Melissa Treolo contributed to this article ONLINE: For more of this story, go online to shawneedispatch.com

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