Kansas Supreme Court releases decision on school funding

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) – The Kansas Supreme Court today issued a unanimous decision in Gannon v. State, holding that the Kansas K-12 public education financing system does not meet the adequacy requirements of the people’s constitution.

The court ruled Thursday that legislators must enact a new education funding law by the end of June to increase its spending on public schools, but it didn’t say by how much.

The Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, districts sued in 2010. Attorneys for both sides argued the case before the court back in September on whether the state is spending enough money on its public schools to provide a suitable education for every child.

The justices ruled in a lawsuit filed by four school districts in 2010. They argued that legislators were violating the state constitution by failing to finance a suitable education for each of the state’s 458,000 students.

The districts argued for an $800 million increase in the state’s $4.1 billion in annual aid. Previous rulings in the same lawsuit forced legislators and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to boost aid to poor districts.

The decision comes with the state facing projected budget shortfalls totaling more than $1 billion through June 2019. Lawmakers already are considering rolling back past income tax cuts championed by Brownback.

KSN News talked to several lawmakers about the decision.

“The court showed or pointed to evidence that half, almost half of African-American students in our state fail to meet proficiency in reading and math. A third of Hispanic students and a third of children come to school poor and that is intolerable,” said Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita.

Now lawmakers must come up with a plane to replace block grant funding with a new formula to increase spending on schools.

“It is going to be very critical that we know what type of tax plan that we are going to be able to get passed to see how much money we have to work with,” said Rep. Diana Dierks, R-Salina.

Attorneys Alan Rupe and John Robb say the ruling suggests that the increase must be sizeable because it affirmed a lower court panel’s findings that spending was inadequate. Attorney General Derek Schmidt called for a “bold legislative response” to comply with the court’s order.

Parents and educators hope lawmakers can work together to find a solution on funding.

“It is the primary economic driver when we think about preparing students as future consumers, employees, our work force depends on a solid education,” said Wichita Superintendent John Allison.

“I was ecstatic that they finally got on board and have finally seen what we’ve been seeing all along,” said Kara Molina, Goddard parent and school volunteer. “Our children in the state of Kansas deserve so much better.”Governor Sam Brownback statement:

The Kansas Supreme Court correctly observes that our education system has failed to provide a suitable education for the lowest performing 25 percent of students. The old funding formula failed our students, particularly those that struggle most. The new funding system must right this wrong.

“The Kansas Constitution empowers the legislative branch with the power of the purse.  Respecting the separation of powers between our three co-equal branches of government, the Kansas legislature has already begun the work of writing a new school funding system. The Kansas legislature has the opportunity to engage in transformative educational reform by passing a school funding system that puts students first. Success is not measured in dollars spent, but in higher student performance.

“Over the last six years, my administration brought new opportunities targeting students who struggle to read and struggle to graduate high school on time. These evidence-based programs like Kansas Reading Roadmap and Jobs for America’s Graduates should be spread statewide, making them available to all students in the bottom 25 percent.

“Furthermore, the time has come to equip parents of struggling students with the power they need to determine the best education for their child.  If they believe a quality education is not possible in their local public school, they should be given the opportunity and resources to set their child up for success through other educational choices.”

AG Derek Schmidt statement:

The Kansas Supreme Court today ruled that the block-grant funding system currently in place violates the Kansas Constitution and must soon be replaced by a constitutional funding formula. The court adopted the deadline of June 30, 2017, a date previously established by the Legislature when it adopted the block grants almost two years ago. That deadline must be met.

“I urge the Legislature to enact a new school-funding system before it adjourns the 2017 regular session and with ample time for the Supreme Court to review the new enactment well before the June 30 deadline. Lengthy delay would impose needless strain and uncertainty on parents, students and school employees.

“In developing the new formula to fund public schools, the Legislature must take into account the many complex factors that affect student performance. Today’s ruling implies that the main focus needs to be on better educating those kids who are performing most poorly. In developing the new formula, the Legislature should once again ‘show its work’ to demonstrate to the Supreme Court how the legislative choices are reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed performance standards adopted by the Supreme Court.

“The people’s elected representatives in the Legislature face difficult decisions in the coming weeks. In addressing the system’s adequacy, the Legislature must take care to preserve the equity in distribution of funds that the court previously upheld.

“One thing is clear: The State’s interest in bringing this litigation to an end can best be met by a bold legislative response, enacted swiftly, squarely targeting the constitutional defects the court identified”

Alan Rupe statement:

After a contentious six-year battle, the Kansas Supreme Court has finally confirmed what anyone who has recently stepped inside a Kansas public school already knew:  Kansas public education is significantly underfunded.  The Court noted that Plaintiffs have proved “not only is the State failing to provide approximately one-fourth of all its public school K-12 students with the basic skills of both reading and math, but that it is also leaving behind significant groups of harder-to-educate students.

While getting to this point in the litigation has not been easy, the hardest part now awaits.  It is incumbent upon the Legislature to react to the ruling quickly and in a way that puts the funding levels into constitutional compliance.  In the Montoy litigation, the “fix” was not fast; it took the legislature eighteen months, two additional trips to the Kansas Supreme Court, and a special legislative session to comply with the Court’s Order.  This process could take less time if the Legislature takes its public education obligations seriously.

All indicators are that the Legislature will act quickly.  First, the law presently in place, which the Court ruled was unconstitutional, only provides for funding through the end of the current fiscal year, expiring on July 1, 2017.  Thus, even absent this ruling, it was highly likely that the issue of the school funding formula would take precedent during the upcoming legislative session.  With the additional pressure of this Court’s June 30, 2017 deadline to comply with its order, it would be shocking if the Legislature did not undergo significant efforts to put a constitutional funding formula into place.

Second, the results of the most recent election demonstrate a significant shift in Kansas politics.  Voters did not retain the conservative legislators linked to Governor Brownback, and instead replaced them with more moderate candidates.  Many Kansans associate Governor Brownback’s tax cuts with the state’s inability to fund basic state programs and agencies, as well as education.  The new, more moderate Legislature has already suggested that it will repeal some of the tax cuts put into place by Governor Brownback.  This would go a long way in not only allowing Kansas to address the inadequacies in education funding, but also in addressing the overwhelming budget deficit that Kansas is currently facing.

The Plaintiff School Districts are hopeful for a quick resolution, but are also hopeful that the resolution actually resolves the problem.  As Plaintiffs have repeatedly stressed, there was no reason to completely replace the previous funding system (the School District Finance and Quality Performance Act or “SDFQPA”) with the block grant system.  The previous system was thoroughly-vetted and, when fully funded, withstood judicial scrutiny.  Plaintiffs seek a return to that formula, with a commitment by the State to actually fund the statutory levels.  Only then will Kansas schoolchildren actually receive the education promised to them by the Kansas Constitution.”

All other documents related to the case are available by clicking here.


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