The state of Kansas will appeal a district court ruling on public school funding.
The ruling, issued Jan. 14, would require the state legislature to provide at least $4,492 in funding per pupil in Kansas public schools. Currently, the state provides $3,838 per pupil. School attendance numbers are weighted based on a variety of criteria including the distance some students travel to schools and the percentage of students who utilize free and reduced lunch programs.
The Court’s decision would also require the state to fully restore capital outlay state aid, adopt an inflationary measure to ensure school funding keeps pace with rising costs, and would disallow changes to the school funding formula that would result in less funding.
In their ruling, a panel of three Shawnee District Court Justices, wrote:
“The state of Kansas is hereby enjoined, from performing the unconstitutional act of enacting any appropriation, or directing, modifying or canceling any transfer, or using any accounting mechanism or other practice that would will, or may in due course, affect, effect or fund less than the base student aid per pupil of $4,492.”
The Gardner-Edgerton School District joined 51 other schools in the lawsuit. It is the only Johnson County school district to take part in Schools for Fair Funding, the organization suing the state in the lawsuit.
It is unfortunate that litigation was required to ensure Kansas schools are appropriately funded, GE superintendent Bill Gilhaus said.
“The current level of school funding makes it difficult to continue to provide the level of services and resources our children deserve to prepare them for the future,” he said. “…It would be our hope the constitutional standard to provide a ‘suitable’ education to all Kansas public school students is preserved.”
Gilhaus told school board members during a meeting on Jan. 14 that since 2001, state aid per pupil has only increased $18.
“I think most of us would agree looking at our own personal finances there has been an increase in costs – food, gas, utilities, clothing,” he said. “Those kinds of analogies carry over to school districts. Very few things get less expensive.”
For example, he said now state testing requires the use of lap tops.
The president of one Kansas think-tank, Kansas Policy Institute, said the court’s decision could result in an annual $594 million tax hike.
“It costs a lot of money to operate our schools, but its how the money is spent that matters, no simply how much,” KPI President Dave Trabert said in a statement.
The state is appealing the court’s decision.
“Why can’t they understand that we are not lying when we say, ‘we don’t have enough funding to take care of all of the things they want us to do,’” GE board member Mary Herbert said.
Gov. Sam Brownback called the court’s decision “disappointing, but not unexpected.”
“The Kansas Legislature, not the courts, has the power of the purse, and has, in fact, increased total state funding for schools every year during my administration,” Brownback said in a press release. “The legislative process is the appropriate venue for debating and resolving issues of taxation and spending.”
Ron Ragan, board president, said he believes it is “sickening” that “it takes judges to tell the state of Kansas how to fund education in the state of Kansas.”
He added, “If children are not our number one priority in this state, then what is?”
The 2013 Kansas Legislature convened for the first time on Jan. 14. The 90-day session will likely conclude before the school funding case is heard by the Kansas Supreme Court.