TOPEKA — The Kansas Supreme Court plans to hear arguments from attorneys July 18 on whether a new school funding law complies with the state constitution.
The court set an expedited schedule Monday for its review. A four-page order from Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said the new law will take effect July 1 as planned and remain in force during the court's review.
"The court order said that since the court order is unconstitutional, the Legislature must replace it and it is the state's burden to show that the replacement fixes the problem" said John Robb, a Newton attorney which has been part of the litigation team. "We don't have to do everything. The state must show that with this bill that all kids in Kansas can be educated .... and do it without affecting the equity with how the funding is distributed. We do not think the state can meet that burden. We don't think it is even close."
The law phases in a $293 million increase in spending on public schools over two years. It also creates a new per-pupil funding formula for the state's 286 local school districts to provide more funds to programs for low-performing students.
The court ruled in March that the state's $4 billion a year in education funding is inadequate under the state constitution. Four school districts sued Kansas in 2010.
"If this bill passes muster, well, you got a bill and we have this amount of funding," Robb said. "If it doesn't pass muster, you have to shoehorn it all into the calendar."
Robb said he is doubtful the Legislature's plan would pass constitutional muster.
"They are $600 million short, the effort is $600 million short," Robb said. "That is not my number. That is the number of the state board of education said that we need to make this system operate. They said $893 million is needed. The Legislature gave $293 million. ... That is why I would say it likely this will not pass muster."
He has compared the current situation to 2005, the last time schools were nearly shuttered as the result of the court invalidating school finance law.
Robb told The Kansan the numbers are "eerily similar" when comparing base state aid per pupil, the amount of money added by the Legislature and other numbers as well.
In 2005 there was a special session of the Legislature to inject more funding into the funding formula. That may not work this time around.
"In order to have a special session, you need a court decision by July 14," Robb said. "To have a decision by then, you have to argue it sometime the week of the 10th of July. ... What you do is take a year's worth of legal work and compress it into about 30 days. That is what is going on."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.