May 20, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Schools Spent More Than $5M on Lobbying, Legal Fees

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Kansas public school districts spent more than $5 million in lobbying and lawsuit funding between 2010 and 2016. That’s the equivalent of hiring more than 110 full time elementary teachers.

Fees paid between 2010 and 2016 to Schools for Fair Funding, a group that successfully sued the state for more school money, comprised about a third of that amount. The organization boasts 40 school districts members, who chipped in almost $2 million since 2010.

The Wichita School District was the largest contributor to SFFF. USD 259 kicked in a little less than $1 million to sue Kansas between its SFFF membership dues and attorney fees as plaintiffs in the Gannon lawsuit.

Legal squabbles over Kansas’ education funding go back decades. The Gannon lawsuit started almost 10 years ago when the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita, and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts argued their funding was not adequate.

The Kansas Supreme Court issued a final ruling on the lawsuit last month. The Court ruled Kansas school funding is inadequate, but the legal opinion stopped short of ordering a specific dollar amount. Instead, justices said legislators “adequately calculate” funding.

Kansas Department of Education officials theorize the ruling may add between $500 million and $1 billion in public school funding. However, a projected budget shortfall and anticipated debates about what defines “adequate” may lower that amount.

Fees to KASB

In addition to membership fees to SFFF and attorney fees for the lawsuit, public schools spent nearly $3 million on the lobbying efforts of the Kansas Association of School Boards. All but about 18 Kansas school districts belong to KASB. Members’ fees are based on each district’s student population, so larger districts pay bigger fees. The Olathe School District, the second largest in the state, paid more than $19,000 in membership fees and another $1,650 to the KASB legal assistance fund. The smallest districts and cooperatives paid a minimum of $3,200 in KASB membership fees. Each district also can pay an annual $1,650 for the KASB legal assistance fund. Contributors maintain an attorney-client privilege with KASB attorneys and legal staff.

The $5 million total doesn’t include what districts pony up to their own lobbyists each year. For example, the Wichita School District paid its lobbyist, Diane Gjerstad, more than $105,000 in 2016. The tally excludes fees to associations like the Kansas High School Athletics Association and other organizations that often lobby on behalf of schools.

Find out what your local school district paid in membership fees between 2010 and 2016 to SFFF and in KASB membership dues in 2015 here.

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