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KS Supreme Court Rules State Has Not Funded Education Equitably

Superintendent-John-Allison.jpg
Abigail Wilson
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The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the state's new block grant funding law does not meet the requirement for funding schools equitably.

In the nearly unanimous ruling, Kansas Supreme Court justices say that the state Legislature should get another opportunity to create a constitutional funding system. If there is no acceptable remedy in place by June 30, "the schools in Kansas will be unable to operate."

Wichita Public Schools Superintendent John Allison says he is pleased that the court affirmed that access to public education in Kansas should not be determined by a child’s zip code.

“These are our next group of employees and investors and we need to prepare them for the future that they can step into and if we don’t do that now, the outlook for Kansas continues to be diminished," Allison said at a press conference held after the ruling.

In a written statement Allison said the ruling in Gannon v. Kansas "affirms SB7, the block grant formula, does not meet the Kansas constitutional standard of equitable access to education opportunities":

"The challenge to the Kansas legislature is to craft a suitable solution, though the court left the legislature wide discretion on what that solution should be. We trust that Kansas children will be the focus of their deliberations."

The case, Gannon v. State of Kansas, is a dispute over K-12 public education financing. The high court affirmed the previous ruling of a three-judge district court panel that the state failed to correct unconstitutional inequities in Kansas’ school funding system.

The plaintiffs in the case are four school districts – including USD 259 Wichita Public Schools – that sued the state in November of 2010 over loss of funding. The school districts claimed the action violated  Article 6 of the Constitution, which requires the Legislature to “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.”

In a March 2014 decision, the Supreme Court said that Article 6 contains both adequacy and equity components. That means the Legislature must provide enough funds to ensure public school students receive a constitutionally adequate education and that funds must be distributed in a way that does not result in unreasonable wealth-based disparities among districts.

Today’s decision addresses the equity component. The court determined that 2015 legislation amending the school funding system actually increased wealth-based disparities among districts. That legislation resulted in a loss of about $54 million to poorer districts receiving the aid, while wealthier districts without need of aid lost funding.

For fiscal years 2016 and 2017, the Legislature repealed the existing system and enacted a block grant funding system that essentially froze school funding at 2015 levels.

Gov. Sam Brownback released a statement after the decision, saying "an activist Kansas Supreme court is threatening to shut" down Kansas' schools.

“We will review this decision closely and work with the Legislature to ensure the continued success of our great Kansas schools," he said.

House Speaker Ray Merrick in a statement called the Supreme Court "the most politically motivated of all branches of government":

"The court has once again demonstrated no misgivings on interjecting itself in legislative proceedings and holding Kansas taxpayers and Kansas school children hostage. Kansans deserve better, and that is the consideration we will make going forward."

Related: Lawmakers React To Kansas Supreme Court Ruling On School Funding

The group Kansans For Fair Courts praised the decision, saying in a statement that "[o]nce again, the Kansas Supreme Court has protected our communities, families and the individual rights of our children guaranteed in the Kansas Constitution."

Below is the full Kansas Supreme Court decision

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Follow Abigail Wilson on Twitter, @AbigailKMUW

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.