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Kansas faces skeptical state Supreme Court on school funding

TOPEKA, Kan. — Attorneys for Kansas will try to convince an often skeptical state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the funding increase legislators approved for public schools this year is enough to provide a suitable education for kids statewide.

The high court is hearing arguments about a new law that phases in a $293 million increase in education funding over two years. The justices ruled in March that the $4 billion a year in aid the state then provided to its 286 school districts was inadequate, the latest in a string of decisions favoring four school districts that sued Kansas in 2010.

The state argues that the increase is sizable and that new dollars are targeted toward helping the under-performing students identified as a particular concern in the court's last decision.

But lawyers for the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts argue that lawmakers fell at least $600 million short of adequately funding schools over two years. They also question whether the state can sustain the spending promised by the new law, even with an income tax increase enacted this year.

The court has ruled previously that the state constitution requires legislators to finance a suitable education for every child. In past hearings, justices have aggressively questioned attorneys on both sides but have not been shy about challenging the state's arguments.

The court is expected to rule quickly. Attorneys for the districts want the justices to declare that the new law isn't adequate and order lawmakers to fix it by Sept. 1 — only a few weeks after the start of the new school year.

In defending the law, attorneys for the state note that it fully funds all-day kindergarten programs and increases spending for programs for at-risk students. It also promises future increases in spending to keep up with inflation.

But the State Board of Education proposed phasing in an $893 million increase over two years, and attorneys for the districts argue that necessary increase could be close to double that.

The income tax increase enacted by lawmakers over Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's veto is expected to raise $1.2 billion over two years, but much of the new funds will go to prevent budget shortfalls through June 2019.