TOPEKA, Kan. — More than $500 million in education cuts have left Kansas public schools so underfunded that the state can no longer meet its obligations to students and public school districts under the state constitution, a lawyer said Monday.
Attorney Alan Rupe of Wichita is representing 32 students and 54 school districts in a lawsuit filed in 2010 that accuses the state of reneging on its promises and urging it to restore the funds.
"The kids that are disadvantaged in Kansas don't have to be," Rupe said in his opening remarks in Shawnee County District Court. "(Providing quality education to all) has been done when there have been resources to do it."
Rupe said schools and teachers had been making progress in improving student performance and reducing achievement gaps until the state started to reduce spending on public schools three years ago, stunting those efforts.
"They're doing the best with what they've got," he said. "But it's at a point where it's simply unconstitutional."
The state contends that current funding levels are constitutional and that the Legislature has the right to set funding levels based on available state revenues. Arthur Chalmers, a Wichita attorney hired by Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office to represent the state, was scheduled to make his opening remarks later Monday. The trial is expected to last three weeks.
It is the second time in a decade that the Kansas school finance formula has been subject to judicial scrutiny.
The last dispute resulted in legislators increasing school spending by nearly $1 billion, but state lawmakers began cutting back that funding when state revenues declined, and eventually school districts and parents filed the new lawsuit to compel the state to restore that funding. Any decision in the case will almost certainly be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.