Kansas law firm exploring potential BEP lawsuit by Shelby County Schools

A law firm that successfully sued the state of Kansas over school funding has been hired by Shelby County Schools to explore whether the district should sue the state of Tennessee on similar grounds, according to records recently obtained by Chalkbeat.

Last month, the district signed a contract with the Wichita-based office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith and agreed to pay up to $285 an hour for the firm’s services, according to records obtained from the district through an open-records request.

Shelby County Schools is exploring whether to sue the state of Tennessee over its Basic Education Plan, a formula that determines how much money that state and local governments should contribute toward public education.

The firm won a lawsuit by several urban districts against the state of Kansas in 2010 over that state’s level of funding urban schools.

Chris Caldwell, a Shelby County Board of Education member who has urged the district to take the state to court, has said the district would receive an extra $100 million annually in funding if the state paid its full obligation under its Basic Education Plan.

The district has not filed a lawsuit in the matter thus far.

In March, the boards for seven school districts in southeast Tennessee, led by the Hamilton County Board of Education in Chattanooga, sued the state charging that it has created a system that “shifts the cost of education to local boards of education, schools, teachers and students, resulting in substantially unequal educational opportunities across the State.”

That lawsuit is pending in court.