School Finance Still Up in the Air in Kansas

Published August 1, 2006

A massive increase in state spending on public schools in Kansas might not be enough to end a decade-long lawsuit against the state, as the matter went to court again in June.

Earlier this year, in the wake of a school finance lawsuit filed by more than one dozen school districts, the Kansas legislature enacted a three-year package of public school spending hikes. The $541 million in additional spending, combined with a court-mandated spending hike implemented in the 2005 legislative special session, would raise state spending on education by more than $850 million when fully implemented.

The most recent round of oral arguments before the state supreme court was held June 22. School district lawyers told the justices $850 million in additional spending–an increase of nearly $2,000 per pupil per year–is not enough.

Ethics Trouble

A major scandal in the school finance matter erupted when it became public that Justice Lawton Nuss had discussed the lawsuit over lunch with two senior state legislators, including Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton). Ethics proceedings against Nuss are underway, and a special House committee is investigating allegations of improper judicial communications in the case. Nuss was forced to recuse himself from further deliberations in the school finance suit.

Nuss, one of two Republicans appointed to serve on the seven-member Kansas Supreme Court, had earlier served as an attorney for the Salina public school district–one of the school districts that is suing the state. He had left the school district before the case was filed.

Kansas is no stranger to school finance litigation. In 1992, a lawsuit forced the legislature to change the school finance structure to its current form. Another suit was rejected by the Kansas Supreme Court in 1994.

Karl Peterjohn ([email protected]) is executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network.