In amicus brief, Shawnee Mission says school funding formula created inequity

Attorney Tristan Duncan was also involved in a lawsuit that came out of the organized efforts to prevent Mission Valley from closing.
Attorney Tristan Duncan of Shook, Hardy, & Bacon LLP.

In the wake of its petition to be made a party in the Gannon school finance case having been denied last month, the Shawnee Mission School District on Thursday filed an amicus brief with the Kansas Supreme Court, arguing that the school funding formula that had been in place since 1992 drastically hindered the district’s ability to properly fund its classrooms.

In the brief, attorneys Tristan Duncan and Zach Chaffee-McClure of Shook, Hardy, & Bacon paint a picture of a formula that effectively ensured that the funding “equity” it claimed to aspire to could never be achieved:

“The Kansas school finance system’s underfunding, coupled with the Spending Cap, results in a significant detriment to districts like SMSD. The funding crises has led to a crippling loss of teachers, loss of foreign language programs, larger class sizes, closure of neighborhood schools, and loss of property values. More generally, the Spending Cap ensures any district receiving disproportionately low funding cannot rely on additional tax effort to overcome the state-created inequity. To the extent the Spending Cap was ever intended to ensure equity, it has done the opposite.”

Duncan and Chaffee-McClure go on to point out that formula used by the state to calculate total aid per pupil “overcompensates for naturally occurring property value disparities” between districts in more affluent areas and those in more rural or impoverished areas. Thus, they write, districts like Kansas City, Kan., and Hutchinson see substantially more state aid per student, putting districts like Shawnee Mission at a disadvantage.

Moreover, the brief argues, the funding formula’s cap on the amount of local funds a district can raise only compounds the issues created by the differential in state aid given to richer and poorer districts:

“Awarding Plaintiffs even more “equalization” only puts districts like SMSD further behind and exacerbates the unreasonable funding gaps among districts. Because local effort is capped, SMSD will not be able to offset more “equalization” aid. SMSD and similarly situated districts need equalization in the form of lifting the LOB Cap to permit voluntary spending to bridge the state-created underfunding.”

You can read the brief in its entirety below: