The Kansas Supreme Court issued its ruling in the school finance lawsuit. It ruled on part of the case and sent part back to the lower court. Here is a summary of the ruling.
THE LAWSUIT AND LOWER COURT RULING
The Kansas Supreme Court issued its ruling in a unanimous decision on the Gannon vs. the State of Kansas lawsuit. Four school districts and 31 individual parents sued the State of Kansas saying that the funding being provided by the state was too low and unconstitutional.
The district court panel ruled that the plaintiffs were right. The lower court said that the amount of money violated both the “adequate” (suitable) and “equitable” requirements for school funding found in the Kansas Constitution Article 6. That court also said that only the school districts and not the individuals could sue. It also said the plaintiffs could not get attorney fees paid.
Both sides appealed and the case went to the Kansas Supreme Court. The Kansas Supreme Court has the final say on this issue under our state constitution.
IS SCHOOL FUNDING EQUITABLE?
The Kansas Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that current funding is not equitable. School funding doesn’t have to be exactly equal for all students. But all students must have equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.
Not every school district has the ability to raise the same amount of money through property taxes. For example, in Willow Springs, one mill raises $17,000. In Johnson County, one mill can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. To “equalize” the difference, there are places in the school funding formula that level the playing field. Capital outlay funding (to build schools) and supplemental funding are two of those equalizing factors.
In recent years the Legislature had stopped helping fund capital outlay. It had also reduced the supplemental funding. These changes had put districts with low property values at a disadvantage and the Court ordered that fixed. Basically, the Court said the Legislature has to follow its own funding law.
The Legislature has until July 1 to fix the capital outlay/supplemental funding problem or the lower court will do what it needs to do to make that happen. Estimates are that it will cost about $129 million to bring funding to equitable levels.
IS SCHOOL FUNDING ADEQUATE?
The Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that current school funding was not adequate, but said the lower court had used the wrong standard in its decision. So this part of the case is going back to the lower court for more work.
The Supreme Court said that total spending did not determine whether or not school funding was adequate. The Court said that the seven standards found in a previous case (called the “Rose” case) should be applied. The Court said that if the finance system is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed those standards, then funding was adequate. Those standards are:
(i) sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization; (ii) sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices; (iii) sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation; (iv) sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness; (v) sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage; (vi) sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and (vii) sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.
The lower court is ordered to move promptly on this issue. You can be sure any ruling will be appealed by one party or the other.
The Legislature has to take action to fund capital outlay and supplemental funding by July 1. When the numbers are available, I’ll let you know what that means for our area schools.
The lower court has to look at the record and rule on the adequacy issue. If it thinks there is not enough evidence to rule on that, it can open up the hearing for more evidence. Right now we have no idea if meeting the Rose standard requires more funding or not.
If you want to read the 110-page ruling yourself, you can find it at:
http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/Opinions/SupCt/2014/20140307/109335.pdf . I found it was really pretty easy to understand, even if you’re not an attorney!
If you have any questions, just write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.