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Kansas Judges: New Education Law Meets State Supreme Court Mandate

A panel of Kansas judges ruled yesterday that a new education funding law complies with a state Supreme Court mandate to increase aid to poor public schools.

The panel in Shawnee County District Court declined the state’s request to dismiss all the claims from a 2010 lawsuit that questioned the fairness of the state’s school funding formula, however.

The judges also rejected arguments from attorneys for the school districts that uncertainty about the state’s finances or future legislative actions raise questions about whether the state actually met the earlier Supreme Court mandate.

The high court ruled in March that, recession-driven cuts in aid to poor school districts created unconstitutional gaps between them and wealthier districts.

The Supreme Court also returned the lawsuit to the three-judge panel in Shawnee County, with orders to examine the Legislature’s response and consider other issues, including whether the state’s total aid to schools is adequate.

The Legislature approved the new education law in April, increasing aid to poor school districts by $129 million dollars during the next school year.

But it also attached policy provisions, including ones ending guaranteed teacher tenure, among other policies.

Alan Rupe, a Wichita attorney representing the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Kansas City and Wichita school districts, said lawmakers have a history of failing to meet promises to public schools.

The Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is promising to file a separate lawsuit challenging policies in the new law.

But presiding District Judge Franklin Theis said even if someone challenges policies included in the law, the new funding would stand.

Theis says the panel will next consider whether the state is spending enough money on its schools overall to meet its duty under the Kansas Constitution to provide an adequate education for every child.