Kansas Supreme Court says school funding is inadequate

Kansas
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The Kansas Supreme Court Monday ruled for the third time in two years that the state’s spending on public schools is inadequate despite an increase approved earlier this year, but gave the state another year to come up with more funding.

The high court rejected arguments from the state that a new law phasing in a $548 million increase in funding over five years is enough to provide a “suitable” education for every child as specified in the state constitution. But in a nod to the Legislature’s efforts, the court delayed its mandate until June 30, 2019, or until further order of the court.

The court said that by making “financial adjustments” the state can satisfactorily address the remaining issues. Those include changes addressing inflation.

Four school districts that sued the state in 2010 argued that the increase still left the state as much as $1.5 billion a year short of what was necessary.

The state now spends more than $4 billion a year on aid to its 286 local school districts.

The Republican-controlled Legislature boosted income taxes last year to close projected budget shortfalls, but part of the hike went to increase spending on public schools in response to a March 2017 order from the court. But the justices declared in October that the higher amount still wasn’t enough to comply with the state constitution.

Lawmakers and Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer were looking this year to increase education funding without raising taxes — and they’ve been aided by a year of monthly surpluses in tax collections. But a majority of the seven justices were openly skeptical that the new law was adequate during a hearing in May.

The four school districts that sued pointed to an academic study this year that said improving Kansas’ schools could cost almost $2.1 billion more a year, depending on the state’s ambitions.

GOP leaders commissioned the study and were taken aback by its conclusions. It gave them estimates based on big improvements in students’ scores on standardized English and math tests. The highest funding estimate was based on reaching a 95 percent high school graduation rate, something no state has achieved.

Kansas has been in and out of school funding lawsuits for several decades. The state constitution requires legislators to “make suitable provision for finance” of the state’s “educational interests,” and the Supreme Court has ruled it’s a requirement to ensure that all children receive a suitable education, regardless of whether they live in rich or poor areas.

Governor Jeff Colyer released the following statement following the Supreme Court’s ruling:

“When I became Governor earlier this year, I outlined my priorities for a school finance plan. Specifically, one that would keep our schools open, get more money into the classroom and improve student outcomes without raising taxes. And we got it done.

As a doctor, I know it is important to see continuous improvement.  We will maintain a sharp focus on sending dollars to the classroom without raising taxes.

I look forward to building upon the work we did together this year to address the remaining issues identified in the ruling.”

USD 259, Wichita, Superintendent Alicia Thompson released the following statement:

“The Kansas Supreme Court has once again ruled in favor of Kansas kids. While the efforts by the Kansas legislature in this year’s session are very much appreciated, we are pleased that the court ruled adjustments must be made for inflation in order to provide the resources required to lift all students to a standard of proficiency. 

We didn’t get to the point of painful budget reductions in one year, nor will we be able to restore funding overnight. It’s important to our businesses to have a well-educated workforce, and the Wichita Public Schools looks forward to working with the legislature, business, parents and educators to empower students to dream, believe and achieve success.”

Click here for full text of court’s decision.

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