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Shawnee County District Court: Kansas' School Funding Is Inadequate

Stephen Koranda

A three-judge panel in Shawnee County says state spending on public schools in Kansas is unconstitutionally low. The judges call the current funding level “inadequate from any rational perspective.”

Santa Fe Trail School District is one of the districts involved in the lawsuit. Superintendent Steve Pegram says he’s not surprised by the ruling, but he expects the state to appeal the decision.

“It’s something that we’ve been saying for a long time, we just find that the courts agreed with us. We know there’ll be another round of that, so we’re just going to patiently sit and see what the next round brings,” says Pegram.

While the judges didn’t set a dollar amount needed to comply with their ruling, they did say there were adequate funding levels in 2009. Getting back to that point could cost around a half-billion dollars.

The court was ordered to consider the funding levels needed to achieve certain educational outcomes, known as the “Rose” standards. Dave Trabert, with the conservative think tank the Kansas Policy Institute, says the judges focused too much on money and not enough on the standards.

“If you can’t understand what the standards are, you don’t have a legal basis for saying you don’t have enough money to meet those standards,” says Trabert.

Republican Governor Sam Brownback and House Speaker Ray Merrick issued statements saying they’re studying the decision and it may be time to rewrite the school funding formula. Democrats says the decision shows the formula works, it just needs to be adequately funded.

It's likely the decision will be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.