Unanimous decision by Kansas Supreme Court: School financing system does not meet constitutional requirements
Update From the Kansas Supreme Court:
TOPEKA — The Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday declared that funding for public schools in the state is unconstitutionally low, and it gave the Legislature until June 30 to come up with a response, setting up another possibility that it could order the closing of public schools if lawmakers fail to come up with a satisfactory solution.
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The Kansas Supreme Court said it would release its decision in the long-awaited school finance lawsuit about 11 a.m. today.
The case, Gannon v. Kansas, alleges that public schools in Kansas are underfunded, in violation of the Kansas Constitution. Plaintiffs in the case, a group of school districts, have asked the court to order the Legislature to increase funding upwards of $550 million a year.
The state has argued that school funding is a matter for the Legislature to decide as part of its authority to set the entire state budget and that courts should not try to second-guess the Legislature.
In 2014, the court ruled that parts of the school funding plan at the time did not treat all districts equitably, and it ordered changes to certain portions of the funding plan. But it sent the question of overall adequacy of funding back to a three-judge district court panel for reconsideration.
In that decision, the court reversed earlier decisions that said the adequacy of funding should be based on the actual cost of providing services. Instead, it said adequacy should be judged based on a set of educational outcomes, known as the “Rose standards,” which define the kinds of knowledge and skills a student needs to be successful in life after graduating high school.
After more hearings, the three-judge panel in 2015 upheld its own earlier ruling and said the level of funding being provided at the time was still unconstitutionally low, based on the number of students in Kansas who were still falling below proficiency on state reading and math tests.
That same year, Kansas lawmakers abolished the school funding formula that had been used since the early 1990s to determine how much money each district received each year. They replaced that formula with a system of block grants that effectively froze funding in place for two years, a move that was supposed to give lawmakers time to write a new formula.
Lawmakers still have not written a new formula, although they are expected to adopt one this year, before the block grant funding law expires on June 30.