Mission Valley-area parents drop federal suit challenging Kansas school funding — for now

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.

The group of Shawnee Mission School District parents who came together in the wake of the decision to shutter Mission Valley Middle School back in 2010 have agreed to drop their federal lawsuit challenging Kansas’s school funding system, but say they are prepared to mount a new challenge if the state doesn’t address their concerns in a new formula.

The case, known as Petrella vs. Brownback, had argued that the school funding formula in place prior to the enactment of the block grant bill nearly two years ago put districts like Shawnee Mission at a disadvantage because it prevented patrons from voting to raise their own taxes to pay for their schools. The parents had petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case, but the high court declined to take it up in December 2015.

With the parents’ next steps uncertain following the Supreme Court’s decision, the parties mutually agreed to dismiss the case back in July. On Wednesday, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a press release noting that the case was no longer active.

“We have successfully defended Kansas law against this challenge in federal court,” Schmidt said in the release.

Shook, Hardy & Bacon attorney Tristan Duncan, who represents the parents who filed the suit, noted that the parents group is prepared to mount a new challenge in the event that the legislature’s new school funding formula does not address the local tax cap.

“The case has only been temporarily dismissed pending what happens in the legislature in 2017 and will be refiled if the funding remains unfair to SMSD,” Duncan said.

She added that one of the major factors in the group’s decision to agree to dismiss the case was a desire to allow legislators to work toward a new formula without another suit hanging over them.

“We would like for the legislative deliberations to occur in the state of goodwill — we didn’t want to have a lawsuit pending while we were all trying to work together as a state,” she said. “The idea is, let’s give everybody a shot at coming up with something truly fair. If not, we will have to protect our constitutional rights later. But right now, we hope that they can come up with a fair funding scheme.”

Gov. Sam Brownback signed the two-year block grant bill back in 2014 saying it would give the legislature ample time to craft a new school funding formula. To date, however, there has been little evidence of actual work on a new funding scheme, leading some administrators who supported the block grant idea to express frustration.