Kansas Judges Skeptical Toward State During Funding Arguments

By Daarel Burnette II — September 22, 2016 2 min read
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Kansas’ Supreme Court justices Wednesday expressed deep concern with the amount of money the state has provided its public school districts, as the state sought to challenge a lower court decision that found the state’s funding system inadequate, according to the Associated Press.

The state has repeatedly argued that it’s not the judges’ role to dictate to the legislature how much the state provides its public schools.

But the four districts that brought the suit, and a growing slice of the Sunflower State’s citizenry, argue that income tax cuts pushed and signed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012 and 2013 have caused a series of debilitating budget cuts.

The state last year lost the equity portion of the Gannon v. Kansas case and, earlier this year, after the state supreme court threatened to shutter the schools, was forced to provide $18 million more to the state’s poorest districts.

Wednesday’s hearing addressed the adequacy portion of that case.

The plaintiffs Wednesday used the state’s learning standards and test scores to show judges that budget cuts have directly impacted academic results. It’s a legal maneuver used by a growing number of lawyers for districts with overwhelmingly large populationS of black, Hispanic, and poor students. While the argument got mixed results before 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act provided district lawyers with reams of test score data. Seperately, state legislatures across the country in recent decades adopted statewide standards (Kansas’ are known as the Rose Standards). In essence, states are being beaten with their own weapons.

Solicitor General Stephen McAllister on Wednesday told justices there is not necessarily a correlation between test scores and funding and that “perfection” shouldn’t be the goal, a position justices openly scoffed at.

“I don’t think you really should worry about the input if the output is doing well,” said McAllister.

Justice Dan Biles indicated that he may push to have the state legislature provide more money only for students who especially struggle academically, about a third of the state’s students.

Losing the case could cost the state up to $800 million. If that happens, the state may, be forced to raise its taxes for its schools.

The state also regularly cited a recent ruling out of Texas where its elected supreme court justices said while the state’s public school system was clearly in need of deep reform, it wasn’t their role to tell the legislators how much they should spend on education.

A ruling isn’t expected until November, past election day. Five of the Kansas justices are up for election this year.

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