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Group of schools seeks to reopen funding lawsuit

Staff writer

Schools for Fair Funding members voted unanimously to reopen the Montoy v. State of Kansas lawsuit, in an attempt to force the state to provide more funding for public schools.

The group conducted a voice vote at a meeting Friday in Salina. USD 410 Superintendent Steve Noble said nobody in attendance voted against reopening the suit. USD 410 and USD 398 are member districts of the group.

Schools for Fair Funding has 74 member districts, representing a full-time enrollment of 168,018, General Counsel John Robb said Tuesday. Of the member districts, 51 attended the meeting in Salina.

The lawsuit is based on two sections from the Kansas Constitution, he said. One requires that the state provide for improvement in education. Another requires that Kansas adequately fund public schools.

Public schools are one of only four institutions with such constitutional guarantees, Noble said. The others are services for disabled citizens, courts, and corrections. That indicates where founding fathers’ priorities were, he said: people who can’t fend for themselves and law and order.

The Kansas Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit in 2006 after Kansas legislators drafted a three-year funding plan. For the 2009-10 school year, the plan called for districts to receive $4,492 per full-time equivalent student, with an adjustment for inflation. Including inflation, the amount for 2009-10 would have been $4,597 per pupil.

The money to provide funding was supposed to be untouchable. Noble said it was put in a figurative lock box.

Lost tax revenues because of the recession caused the state to reduce per-pupil aid several times, eventually settling at $4,012 per pupil.

“Somebody found the key to the lock box,” Noble said Monday.

Schools for Fair Funding will ask the Kansas Supreme Court to reopen the Montoy case, claiming the state legislature is violating the agreement that was the basis for dismissing the lawsuit originally.

Schools for Fair Funding is treading new ground, because the Kansas Supreme Court has never reopened a case, he said.

Reopening the case is preferable to filing a new lawsuit because a new suit would have to go through several levels of courts to reach the Supreme Court. The Montoy lawsuit was filed in 1999, and took seven years to reach a conclusion. Starting at the Supreme Court would save money and time, Noble said.

Last modified Dec. 24, 2009

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