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Kansas Supremes Rule Against Changing Funding Formula

By Cleon Rickel

On a split vote, the high court decided Friday it wouldn’t reopen the landmark court case Ryan Montoy, et al., v. State of Kansas, et al., which forced legislators to sharply increase the amount of funding for public education.

The legislature had made “substantial compliance with our prior remedial orders,” and there were other factors arguing against reopening it, the justices said.

The legal procedure requested by Schools for Fair Funding, a group of 71 Kansas school districts, was similar to filing a new case, they argued in their opinion. The schools would be better off opening a new case, said the judges.

Attorneys for the group of school districts said they intend to do just that.

The group had sought to reopen the case because of heavy cuts made in state aid to schools. They’ve said that because of cuts and projected cuts, school funding would be close to the level before the original lawsuit was filed.

“The decision to not reopen the school funding lawsuit may be viewed as a setback, but the path of a lawsuit remains a possibility,” said Blake West, president of the Kansas-National Education Association, which has supported the lawsuit. “It just will take more time."

The issue, West said, is not what the Supreme Court does or the years that such decisions might take.

“The real issue is that the Legislature needs to act now. Not because of arm twisting by the Supreme Court, but because it is the right thing to do," he said.

“Our children need and deserve a quality education this year, next year, and each year that they are in school. Our communities want to retain their reputation of providing great public schools. Our communities want state lawmakers to restore the funding to make this possible.”

Legislative and state officials let out a collective sigh of relief over the ruling.

“The Supreme Court made the right decision,” said Emporia Republican state senator James Barnett, who is also running for the U.S. Congress. “In the middle of one of our worst economic recessions in history, we cannot afford a court-ordered increase in spending. I will continue to be a strong supporter of education, but it is the legislature's job to balance the state's budget.”

Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson said he had been disappointed the school district group had used public funds to sue the state.

“We are in an unprecedented crisis and the proper response as Kansans is to pull together and not sue each other,” Parkinson said. “However, we have a responsibility to fund education at an acceptable level even during a recession.

“We’ve cut education as much as we can,” he added.

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