Danedri Thompson
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In a unanimous decision, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the state of Kansas to provide additional funding to public education. The court ruled that the state’s current base state funding, $3,838 per weighted pupil, is not adequate.
A three judge panel of District Court judges will review and determine what adequate funding should be. The Supreme Court also ordered the state legislature to fully fund capital outlay aid and supplemental general state aid payments by July 1.
Parents in four school districts filed the lawsuit in 2010, arguing that spending cuts at the height of the recession resulted in lower test scores. The court dismissed the individuals’ case for lack of standing, but determined that the school districts had standing to bring a lawsuit.
The Gardner Edgerton School District joined more than three dozen other Kansas public schools in the lawsuit. USD 231 is the only Johnson County school district to take part in Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF), the lobbying organization that filed the lawsuit. To date, Gardner-Edgerton has paid more than $70,000 to be a party to the suit.
The Supreme Court decision clarified that the Kansas Constitution requires two separate components for public education – adequacy and equity. According to the decision, adequacy requirements are met when the school finance formula is “reasonably calculated.”
Currently, the state legislature provides base state aid per pupil with school attendance numbers weighted based on a variety of criteria including the distance some students travel to school and the percentage of students who utilize free and reduced lunch programs.
Rep. Bill Sutton, who represents Gardner and Edgerton in the Kansas House, said the court’s decision opens the door for the state legislature to re-consider the financing mechanism for school funding.
“There’s so much more funding that comes in that isn’t accounted for that isn’t base state aid,” Sutton said.
For example, he listed additional aid available to schools for transportation and capital projects.
“That’s certainly one area we can look at,” he said.
The Court ruled that total state spending itself cannot be used as the sole measure of whether funding is adequate.
Rep. Willie Dove, who represents a portion of northern Gardner, said funding decisions belong to the legislature.
“While I respect the role of the judiciary, the Kansas Constitution gives the legislature the authority over school funding decisions. It is our responsibility, as the peoples’ representatives, to make these decisions for the future of all Kansans,” Dove said in a statement.
The Supreme Court, however, differs. In its decision, Justices wrote the judiciary must determine whether legislative actions meet the requirements of the Kansas Constitution.
“The judiciary is not at liberty to surrender, ignore or waive this duty,” the decision reads.
The Kansas Constitution requires that school funding be adequate.
According to a white paper released by SFFF attorneys, multiple indicators show that the base state aid per pupil should be between $5,700 and $6,100 in order for school districts to cover the costs of what they are mandated to do.
“To this day, no one knows what it costs for schools to achieve required outcomes while also making efficient use of taxpayer money,” Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, said.
Sutton said he hadn’t yet had a chance to read the 110-page Supreme Court decision. He said the Legislature will be working with the Attorney General and with House and Senate leadership to develop a plan to address the court’s decision.
“Whose taxes are we going to raise exorbitantly or what programs are we going to cut? Those are the two questions that come out of (the decision),” Sutton said. “Are we going to cut KanCare or Corrections? We’re not going to do that, but what are our options here?”
Gov. Sam Brownback said the state’s response to the lawsuit will require a thoughtful review.
“I will work with leadership in the Kansas Senate and House to determine a path forward that honors our tradition of providing a quality education to every child and that keeps our schools open, our teachers teaching, and our students learning,” he said in a release shortly after the court decision was announced.