Irritated Kansas Legislators Head Back to Drawing Board on School Funding

By Daarel Burnette II — October 03, 2017 2 min read
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The Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the state’s most-recent funding formula thrusts a 20-year battle over school spending, standards, and the achievement gap in that state back into another year of legislation and litigation.

The court’s Oct. 2 ruling gave state lawmakers until June 30 of next year to to add money to the funding formula and come up with a better distribution method, although the justices asked lawmakers to present something before April 30 of next year so the court will have time before the school year commences to deterimne whether the funding formula meets the court’s muster.

“While we stay the issuance of today’s mandate through June 30, 2018, after that date we will not allow ourselves to be placed in the position of being complicit actors in the continuing deprivation of a constitutionally adequate and equitable education owed to hundreds of thousands of Kansas school children,” the judges said in the tersely-worded ruling.

School funding has roiled Kansas’ politics for decades, coming to a peak this year after the court said in two separate rulings that the state’s funding formula was both inadequate and inequitable.

The state’s politicians are tasked with coming up with hundreds of millions more dollars, though the court has not defined how much will ultimately satisfy them. Legislators have been reluctant to raise taxes.

Conservative politicians across the state expressed extreme frustration with the court’s latest ruling.

“This ruling shows clear disrespect for the legislative process and puts the rest of state government and programs in jeopardy,” said Republican Senate leaders Susan Wagle, Jeff Longbine, and Jim Denning in a statement. “As promised, Senate Republicans remain committed to providing every Kansas student with an exceptional education; however, raising taxes to fund this unrealistic demand is not going to happen.”

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in a statement called the ruling “another regrettable chapter in the never-ending cycle of litigation over Kansas school funding. The court should not substitute its decision for that of the legislature.”

School officials, though, were elated, pointing out that the state promised them that, once the recession ended, they would get plenty more money.

The funding formula that was struck down provided states $293 million more than the previous funding formula.

Lawyers for the four districts that originally sued the state said districts should be given more flexibility in spending and that nothing less than $893 million--a number based on an earlier ruling by the state’s high court -- would satisfy the court’s earlier ruling or help districts close its achievement gap.

Alicia Thompson, superintendent for Wichita schools told the Witchita Eagle, “We have nearly 500,000-plus public school students in the state of Kansas, and the future sits in our classrooms today,” she said. “For Kansas’ economy to be prosperous, we must be able to embrace the notion that the solution to our workforce challenges sits in our classrooms.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.