Kansas City residents sue over Missouri budget cut

Thursday, June 24, 2010 | 6:35 p.m. CDT; updated 8:59 a.m. CDT, Friday, June 25, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — A lawsuit challenging a school funding maneuver by Gov. Jay Nixon contends that Kansas City schools are due an extra $3 million from Missouri.

The lawsuit asks a judge to declare Nixon's directives for school funding illegal and to order the state to pay Kansas City schools under a separate plan approved by the legislature.

At issue is a dispute over how to spread the pain of a $43 million state funding shortfall in basic aid to school districts for the budget year that ends Wednesday. Lawmakers approved a bill this spring that shielded about one-quarter of school districts from the cut, but Nixon ordered his administration to ignore the legislation and spread the shortfall among all 523 school districts.

A Nixon spokesman declined to comment Thursday about the lawsuit, which was filed last week in Cole County Circuit Court. The governor has said previously that it was unconstitutional for lawmakers to change school funding policies in a state budget bill, so he was justified in ordering the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to ignore the legislation.

Three parents whose children are enrolled in the Kansas City school district contend in the lawsuit that Nixon's order to ignore lawmakers cost their schools $3 million. Kansas City was among the districts that lawmakers had shielded from budget cuts because those districts had not received annual increases in state money under Missouri's school funding formula.

With state education funds limited, other school districts are monitoring the lawsuit.

Jefferson City Schools Superintendent Brian Mitchell told the Jefferson City News Tribune that he supports spreading the budget cut to every school district, as Nixon had ordered. That school district was not among the schools that would have been spared from cuts by the legislature.

Nixon's directive to ignore legislation was similar to a frequent practice of U.S. presidents, who have cited constitutional grounds for ignoring portions of legislation that they sign. But it appears to be unprecedented among recent Missouri governors and prompted alarm among some lawmakers.

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