Kansas Court Allows Affluent District’s Claim to Move Forward


A recent decision in a case in which parents in an affluent district are challenging a state-imposed cap on the amount of money residents can tax themselves to support their school funding will move forward after the federal district court in Kansas denied defendants’ motion to dismiss, motion for summary judgment and request for a preliminary injunction.  Petrella v. BrownbackPlaintiffs claim that the cap is unconstitutional because it denies them their fundamental liberty and property interests and their right as parents to direct and participate in the upbringing and education of their children.

The case has a complicated procedural history. U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum had dismissed the case in 2011 because he held that the Act contains two separate non-severability provisions which would require the court to invalidate the state’s entire school funding scheme if it should determine that the property tax cap was unconstitutional. Plaintiffs themselves would reap no benefit from such an outcome, the court concluded, because if the entire education funding statute were held unconstitutional, the district would have no authority to raise any funds for education. The U.S. Court of Appeals reversed that decision, Petrella v. Brownback, 697 F.3d 1285 (10th Cir. 2012), holding that plaintiffs’ alleged injury was not the inability to raise funds through a tax but rather unequal treatment generally, which could conceivably be redressed by a variety of potential remedial actions.

Upon remand, the district court decided a number of new procedural objections raised by the state defendants, but also ruled that plaintiffs are not entitled to strict scrutiny review of their equal protection claims. In denying the request for a preliminary injunction, the court held that under the more lenient rational relationship standard, it was not likely that the plaintiffs would prevail on the merits of their claims.

December 10, 2013

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