School finance issue returns

Suit challenging LOB cap is resurrected

By The Mercury

One can’t blame parents in the Shawnee Mission School District for wanting the cap lifted on the local option budget, a key provision of the school finance formula in Kansas. If they want to spend more money on their schools, a law preventing it doesn’t seem fair.

Nor can one blame other school districts, which don’t have the wealth Shawnee Mission has to create educational opportunities, for worrying that the Shawnee Mission parents might succeed. Many districts, including the Manhattan-Ogden District, have had to use the LOB to fund basic needs. They don’t want students to suffer for the lack of local funding for extras any more than Shawnee Mission wants to be penalized for having money and not being able to spend it on schools.

Shawnee Mission won a key victory last week when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the plaintiffs, all of whom are parents in the Shawnee Mission School District, have standing to proceed with their lawsuit. They had been stymied when U.S. District Court judge John W. Lungstrum ruled that the cap on the LOB, a local property tax through which districts supplement state education funding, could not be separated from the rest of the school funding formula. Kansas lawmakers stipulated that in the law, and even the Court of Appeals acknowledged that removing the cap from the rest of the law could doom the entire funding system.

The appellate court ruling comes as Kansans await a decision on a separate challenge to the way the Legislature funds public education. A panel of three state judges heard evidence several months ago in a lawsuit that was the second of its kind in a decade. The first ended in 2005 when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state’s school funding formula was unconstitutional. Lawmakers complied with the ruling and committed about $1 billion over several years to schools. Unfortunately, those gains were lost when the recession forced budget cuts to all state programs and services.

Adding to the school finance intrigue is Gov. Sam Brownback’s desire to rewrite the school finance formula and shift more of the funding burden onto local taxpayers. Not surprisingly, that notion has a great many Kansans concerned both about their tax burdens and the future of their schools. It should give pause even to parents in the Shawnee Mission School District.

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