The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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February 2, 2014

Kansas educators, legislators await court’s school funding ruling

GALENA, Kan. — Brian Smith said he has continued to watch the Galena School District’s budget shrink over the past several years.

Smith, the superintendent, said the district is considered to be the poorest in Kansas and is frequently cited as an example when lawmakers in Topeka discuss funding for education.

“We’ve cut every department since we started seeing the cuts from the state,” Smith said.

The district’s teaching staff has dropped from 70 to 58. And Smith now does double duty as the high school counselor.

“With everyone else doing more, it was only right if I do more, too,” he said.

In nearby Baxter Springs, Superintendent Dennis Burke said that while his district has kept its teachers, it has cut other positions and has reduced spending on school and custodial supplies.

Burke said having quality teachers is the top priority for the district, which is why it hasn’t cut any teaching positions. One of the district’s main priorities, he said, is keeping a low student-teacher ratio.

“Everything else after that depends on the situations,” Burke said, adding that the staff has remained optimistic despite budget cuts.

“Unfortunately, the cost of educating kids continues to go up,” he said. “The revenue to meet those costs has not kept up with inflation.”

And that’s what’s at the heart of a lawsuit in Kansas that is being watched around the country.

LAWSUIT

Four Kansas school districts as well as the parents of more than 30 children are suing the state, claiming it has fallen short of constitutional guarantees to adequately fund K-12 education. That has set the stage for a state Supreme Court decision — due any day — on whether funding should be increased.

All states have language in their constitutions providing for public schools. But Kansas’ courts have been specific in the past in spelling out how the state must carry out that responsibility.

After a round of litigation that ended in 2006, Kansas schools were promised large increases in spending. But when the national economy slumped, the state began backtracking. The state’s basic aid to schools per pupil for the 2015 fiscal year is projected at $3,852, down from a peak of $4,433 before the latest recession.

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