Court Rules State Should Increase Aid To Schools

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/WIBW) _ A three-judge panel has ruled in favor of parents and schools who say the state's formula for funding education is unconstitutional.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt immediately filed notice to appeal the ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court.

Read the full court opinion and entry of judgement- click here

Parents and school districts had argued the state has failed to live up to its promises to increase elementary and secondary education funding as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2006. They say schools have had to make cuts that have hurt student achievement.

Friday's 245-page ruling from Shawnee County District Court also barred lawmakers from further cuts to per-pupil spending.

The decision comes just days before lawmakers convene for their 2013 session Monday. Sen. Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, says the ruling will change the tone of the session. He says lawmakers should be proactive in addressing the issues raised in the ruling rather than wait for the courts to order them to take action. Hensley says the legislature never had funded the base aid per pupil to the level required following a 2006 Kansas Supreme Court ruling.

But House Speaker-elect Ray Merrick, R-Stillwell, says Friday's district court ruling may not spur any further action as lawmakers wait for the outcome of an appeal. Merrick says, right now, he does not believe schools need any more money, pointing the formula by which schools are allotted funding as the real problem. Merrick says the state gives schools a lot of money and he is not convinced it's all being used to get the best possible outcomes.

In its ruling, the district court judges wrote, "the best point at which to begin to effect a cure to the constitutional deficiencies we have found in the reductions in the BSAPP (base state aid per pupil) is to go back to the 2008 session when a constitutionally compliant legislature amended K.S.A. 72-6410(b) (1) to adjust the BSAPP for FY2010 and forward to $4492 and adopt that sum as a funding requirement for FY2014."

It is not clear how quickly an appeal might move forward.

Statement from Gov. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas:
“The ruling by the district court is disappointing but not unexpected given the Kansas Supreme Court’s previous ruling in the Montoy case in 2005. 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.”

Statement from House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence:
"I am very encouraged by the court’s decision today. I am particularly pleased that the court acknowledges that Governor Brownback’s tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations directly conflict with our constitutional obligation to fund public schools. I hope Governor Brownback will now focus his efforts on ensuring that our children receive a quality education and not on punitive measures aimed at our courts."

Statement from Senate Pres.-elect Susan Wagle, R-Wichita:
“Once again, Kansas judges have overstepped their constitutional bounds and defied the will of Kansas voters and their elected representatives and senators. With today’s decision, this judicial panel ignored the system of checks and balances that every Kansas student is taught in school and decided that they alone, not the people via the legislature, would determine how the people’s money should be spent, by imposing a specific dollar amount that Kansas must spend for education.

“These judges have made themselves the sole arbiters of spending—and by extension, taxation— in Kansas. They have demonstrated no regard for the ability of struggling Kansas families to pay higher taxes, if necessary, to meet their demands. This also disregards the will of Kansas voters, who overwhelmingly elected a House and Senate that supports the existing school funding policy—one that maintains educational quality while also being sensitive to the very real difficulties being faced by Kansas taxpayers.

“I am committed to upholding the will of the majority of Kansans who want their elected leaders to maintain high-quality public education. I am committed to restoring to Kansas the fundamental American principle that only the elected representatives of the people of Kansas—accountable to them at the ballot box—may enact laws regarding spending and taxation.”

Statement from Senate Majority Leader-elect Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson:
"The recent education ruling is the illegitimate next step to the Montoy decision. By usurping the power the legislature to appropriate state funds, judges have bestowed upon themselves unprecedented power which is now leading to a constitutional crisis. There is no better example of why the state of Kansas needs to reform its judicial selection process."

Statement from House Speaker-elect Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell:
“The House is committed to ensuring a quality education for all Kansas students and will work tirelessly to achieve that goal. However, the legislature, not the court system, has the duty of balancing the critical funding needs of all Kansans when appropriating tax dollars."

Statement from House Majority Leader-elect Jene Vickery, R- Louisburg:
“While I was disappointed with the District Court’s ruling in the school finance case, the House Republican Caucus is focused on solutions to ensure Kansas children are college or career ready. Governor Brownback has committed Kansas to improving 4th grade reading levels and House Republicans are not only eager to achieve this goal, but also to work with parents and educators on improving outcomes in all areas of public education."