Kansas Statehouse

Kansas Supreme Court Rules Current Public Education Funding Is Unconstitutional

The Kansas Supreme Court determined on Thursday morning that the state’s funding of public primary and secondary education falls short of the requirements put forth by the state’s constitution. Reuters reports the state legislature will have until June 30 to come up with a new funding system in compliance with the constitution. Failing to do so, the court will void the current system of funding.

Lawyers argued before the Kansas Supreme Court in September that the state would need to spend another $430 million to $1.4 billion on top of the $4 billion it spends on public schools in order to meet the state constitution’s requirements.

Alan Rupe, a lawyer for one of the four school districts that put forth the lawsuit, said in a statement, “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.”

Kansas state Rep. Larry Campbell discusses school funding
[Image by John Hanna/AP Images]

Those four districts, Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita, and Kansas City, sued the state of Kansas in November 2010. The case, titled Gannon v. Kansas, alleged the state’s legislation was failing to properly finance the education of the 458,000 public school students in Kansas.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Supreme Court ruling also struck down a 2015 law that favored “block grants” to districts over per-student funding. The ruling has also caused a rift among the Democratic and moderate Republican justices and the highly conservative state legislature and governor. As the Wichita Eagle reports, the court’s statement found the state’s “block grants” to be inadequate to properly fund public schools.

“In effect, it is merely a fund created by freezing school districts’ funding for 2 school years at a prior year’s level. It also is only minimally responsive to financially important changing conditions such as increased enrollment.”

Governor Sam Brownback recently vetoed legislation to boost taxes, and Kansas’s budget has struggled since enacting tax cuts in 2012 and 2013.

Various state legislators have already spoken in favor of the Supreme Court ruling and called it a victory for the students of Kansas. State Senator Lynn Rogers, a Democrat representing Wichita, said the decision is a long time coming.

“We’ve lost a whole generation of kids with inadequate funding, and hopefully this will communicate to the state how important it is not to lose a single kid, and that we need to do better than what we’ve done.”

Following a 2016 Supreme Court decision on education funding, Kansas’ schools nearly faced a court-ordered shutdown over budgeting issues, forcing Governor Brownback to call a legislative special session in order to keep schools open. Conservative groups then attempted to remove four of the more liberal and moderate justices from the court in the November 2016 election; however, Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and associate justices Marla J. Luckert, Carol Beier and Dan Biles all retained their seats. Many conservative lawmakers aligned with the governor also lost seats to Democratic and moderate candidates who ran on a pro-school platform.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback speaks to the legislature
[Image by Orlin Wagner/AP Images]

As the Wichita Eagle states, Governor Brownback seems unlikely to change his stance on school funding. Any legislation put forth by the more conservative legislators that does not change the strategy could face further battles in court.

Kansas’s House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, says the new approach to funding must recognize that “all students are entitled to a public education, all kids aren’t the same and some kids cost more than others.” Kansas lawmakers are currently on break this week, but as Ward says, they will have to act quickly to draft new legislation to meet the court’s deadline. Ward also referred to the Supreme Court ruling as “a big victory for schoolkids across Kansas.”

[Feature Image by Orlin Wagner/AP Images]