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Latest Kansas school funding plan debated in court

(Reuters) - Kansas’ latest plan to adequately fund its public schools faced tough scrutiny on Tuesday by state supreme court justices, who heard arguments on whether it meets a state constitutional requirement for adequacy.

The arguments marked the second time in less than a year the state had to defend a school funding plan before the high court. After a court hearing last July on a two-year, $293 million funding boost, justices in October determined it fell short, and set a June 30, 2018, deadline for a constitutional plan to be in place.

Toby Crouse, Kansas’ solicitor general, said the new plan provides an adequate and equitable funding formula.

“This is a significant input of additional dollars,” he told the court.

In April, Republican Governor Jeff Colyer signed into law a funding boost of more than $500 million phased in over five years.

But some justices raised concerns that the new plan ignores recommendations in a state-commissioned study, uses as a base an old per-pupil funding level, and that the phase-in of additional money could be detrimental to students in the interim.

Alan Rupe, an attorney representing school districts that sued the state, said an additional $506 million was needed just in fiscal 2019, which begins July 1, with inflation-adjusted increases to reach as much as $2 billion in higher funding in future years.

He urged justices to give state lawmakers a road map to reach adequate funding and to retain jurisdiction over the case to ensure that future Kansas legislatures adhere to a court-approved plan.

Crouse argued that court should end the case, which dates back to 2010, should it approve the latest funding plan.

“The never-ending cycle of litigation should end for the benefit of the state and the schools,” Crouse said.

If the court tosses out the new plan, the state would be under a tight deadline to come up with an alternative by June 30. Crouse said in that instance, the state would want an extended deadline to ensure schools open on time in the fall and to give the legislature sufficient time to deliberate.

School funding pressures were cited earlier this month as an ongoing concern by S&P Global Ratings, which revised the outlook on Kansas’ AA-minus credit rating to stable from negative due to stronger-than-expected revenue collections.

Reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis