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TENTH CIRCUIT BRUSHES ASIDE WEALTHY-PARENT ATTACK ON FAIR SCHOOL FUNDING
On June 1, 2015, in a lawsuit where plaintiffs from wealthy Kansas school
districts tried to use the U.S. Constitution to wall themselves off from
the rest of Kansas, the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver dismissed
all but one claim and remanded the case to the Kansas District Court.
In their complaint, plaintiffs from the wealthy Shawnee Mission School
District (SMSD) used an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink list
of charges against the State of Kansas. Plaintiffs "claim that aspects of the state's
school financing regime violate their rights to free speech, to petition
the government, to association, to vote, to education, to equal protection
of the laws, to direct the upbringing of their children, and to dispose
of their property," the Court stated. "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." The
Court concluded that it could "discern no support for their novel and
"Instead of fighting for inequities and more privilege," said David
Sciarra of the Education Law Center, "these parents should be working
with Kansas families throughout the state to ensure 'suitable
provision' for the education of all Kansas children, as the Kansas Constitution
John Robb, counsel to Schools For Fair Funding, said that "If [the plaintiffs
are] successful, local property taxes will at least double over
the next 10 years or educational opportunity will experience an explosively
The SMSD plaintiffs argued that the Local Option Budget cap (LOB cap)
in the Kansas school funding system was an attempt to punish
them because they are part of a politically unpopular group of wealthy people,
cases brought by gay plaintiffs. The court wrote that "it strains credulity
to assert that residents of wealthy communities are subject to
the systematic ostracization faced by gay people."
Parents from less wealthy communities intervened as defendants in this
case, including the Gannon family, who are first-named plaintiffs in Gannon
v. State, a lawsuit seeking both fair and adequate school funding
for all K-12 Kansas students.
The Tenth Circuit Court's ruling affirmed the federal Kansas District
Court's orders denying plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction
and granting defendants' motions to dismiss all but one claim. Plaintiffs'
lone remaining claim for a trial in the District Court is the assertion
that the LOB cap cannot survive a rational basis review under the U.S.
Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.
Under such review a challenged provision, in this case the LOB cap,
must be upheld "if there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts
that could provide a rational basis" for it, the Court explained. The
Tenth Circuit quotes the District Court's 2013 ruling with approval: "the
pursuit of a claim under the Equal Protection Clause based on
the argument that equity is not a legitimate governmental interest seems
Throughout most of its history, the Kansas legislature has established
minimum local school tax levies, known as floors, and maximum
local school tax levies, known as caps. And, the Tenth Circuit explained
in its ruling, "Kansas
has developed a school financing scheme that seeks to avoid 'mak[ing]
the quality of a child's education a function of his or her parent's or
neighbors' wealth.' Montoy v. State (2006). Just last year, the Kansas
Supreme Court reaffirmed that '[e]ducation in Kansas is not restricted
to that upper stratum of society able to afford it.' Gannon v. State,
(2014)." (citations omitted)
Dissatisfied with this equity in the Kansas school funding system, a
group of parents from the wealthy SMSD filed suit in 2010 in the federal
District Court of Kansas. They asked the court to void the LOB cap and
order the state education finance system shifted to local property taxes.
After a decision on standing in 2011 and a trip to the Tenth Circuit
in 2012, the District Court, in 2013, entered an order deciding certain
preliminary matters and dismissing most of the claims made by the Shawnee
Mission plaintiffs. The order also set the standard by which the case
will be judged at trial as the rational basis standard rather than
the strict scrutiny standard. The plaintiffs then appealed that
order to the Tenth Circuit in Denver, which resulted in this decision
affirming the District Court's order.
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