Constitutional Law

Kansas lawmakers could defy court on school funding, its leaders say

Is a constitutional confrontation looming between the Kansas Legislature and the state’s supreme court?

The Kansas Supreme Court is considering whether state lawmakers failed to comply with the court’s 2006 order to increase school funding, report the Associated Press, the Kansas City Star, the Wichita Eagle, the Lawrence Journal-World and the New York Times. The 2006 ruling is based on a provision of the Kansas Constitution requiring the legislature to make “suitable provision” for financing public schools.

The House speaker and the Senate president both told the Star they don’t think lawmakers will go along with a costly court order.

“I don’t see the legislature right now, with this makeup, going along with what the courts say,” House Speaker Ray Merrick said. “But I could be surprised.”

The case comes to the Supreme Court as the legislature passed steep tax cuts, the Times says. To comply with the 2006 order, lawmakers originally raised state funding to about $4,500 per student, from about $3,900. Now state funding per student is about $3,800. (Schools also get state and local funds.)

The Kansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday.

A lawyer representing the state, Stephen McAllister, told the justices that lawmakers have to deal with economic realities when making budget decisions. “The legislature has to deal with the real world,” he said. “The constitution shouldn’t be a suicide pact.”

Lawyer Alan Rupe represented schools and students seeking increased funding. He said lawmakers engaged in “deliberate indifference” when they slashed school funding, according to the AP account.

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