Experts work to understand possible ramifications of school funding bill

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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WICHITA, Kan. -- Alan Rupe has an interesting perspective on the legislature's school funding bill.

After all, he's one of the lawyers that helped convince the Kansas Supreme Court to force the legislature to take an action that would reduce the funding gap between school districts. In the "Gannon Case," Rupe represented Schools For Fair Funding, a group of school districts, parents and students.

He's now trying to determine if the bill both chambers passed Sunday satisfies the court's order.

"We are looking at the consequences of what the legislature passed," Rupe said.

So far, as he's looked into the bill, he's had some concerns.

The bill does provide the extra $129 million stipulated by the court to fund poorer districts. But Rupe says he's worried about how and at what cost.

"With what the court did, they have ostensibly created a situation where it appears they comported with the court's ruling, but in effect created a more inequitable situation," Rupe said.

He says to come up with the $129 million, it appears lawmakers took money from programs from at-risk students. And he says the majority of the funding is an increase to local budget options. He says those LOBs benefit wealthier districts which are better suited and able to raise property taxes.

"If (poorer) districts don't pass that local election to raise that money for the classroom, the kids in the poorer district continue to drift further from the educational opportunities that exist in the richer districts," Rupe said.

School districts are also pouring over the bill to understand how it would affect them.

"There's some positive and negatives with this bill," Diane Gjerstad who works in government relations for Wichita Public Schools.

Gjerstad says it appears the district would receive about $12 million dollars to help provide a better balance of state funding and local option budget funding. She says it would likely help lower property taxes.

She says it also appears the district would receive capital outlay funds that would help to finish 2008 bond projects.

But she says it's really still too early to tell.

"We're still trying to work out the numbers," Gjerstad said.

Rupe is also working out the numbers.

As he prepares to go before the court again, this time on the issue of adequate funding for school students, he's looking to see if this bill really satisfies the court's order regarding equity.

"As we speak, we are examining that issue," Rupe said.

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