Federal appeals court denies Shawnee Mission parents’ challenge to Kansas school finance formula

The federal lawsuit emerged from the group that organized to "Save Mission Valley" in 2010.
The federal lawsuit emerged from the group that organized to “Save Mission Valley” in 2010.

Dismissing their legal arguments as a “kitchen-sink approach,” three 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judges on Monday denied a group of Shawnee Mission parents’ attempt to get the federal government to intervene in the Kansas school finance formula, which the parents claimed unfairly hampers Shawnee Mission’s ability to operate its schools by capping the amount of money districts can raise locally.

The ruling comes at an intriguing time, just two months after the legislature shelved the 23-year-old finance formula at the heart of the matter in favor of a two-year block grant bill. However, since the block grant bill still keeps a cap on local spending, the court ruled that the case was still ripe for consideration — though it found little compelling about the parents’ claims, suggesting that the local option budget cap was a key part to Kansas’ equitable schooling system.

“Displeased with the outcome of school finance litigation in state court, plaintiffs, parents of students in the relatively wealthy Shawnee Mission School District, seek federal intervention to upend decades of effort toward establishing an equitable school finance system in Kansas,” wrote judge Carlos Lucero. “Stripped to its pith, plaintiffs’ position is that the U.S. Constitution requires the state of Kansas to grant its political subdivisions unlimited taxing and budget authority. We discern no support for their novel and expansive claims.”

The appellate court’s ruling comes four years after the group of parents filed a federal case challenging Kansas’s local option budget cap in the wake of the Shawnee Mission School Board’s vote to close Mission Valley Middle School.

Shook Hardy and Bacon attorney Tristan Duncan, who represented the plaintiffs in the federal case and has recently represented the Shawnee Mission School District in part of the Gannon case at the state level, said the group was evaluating its options for further appeal.

“Obviously we’re disappointed in the decision,” she said. “The case isn’t over. We will continue to fight.”

You can read the full ruling below: