Kansas Lawmakers Rebuke Court for ‘Nightmare’ School Funding Ruling

By Daarel Burnette II — June 26, 2018 3 min read
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Despite a kinder-than-expected legal ruling that avoids a school shutdown, conservative legislators in Kansas this week lashed out at the state’s supreme court for once again deeming the state’s funding formula unconstitutional.

And lawmakers resurfaced an idea to amend the constitution so that the legislature will be solely responsible for determining school quality and spending amounts.

“I continue to believe that Kansans should be given the chance to vote on a constitutional amendment to indicate whether this litigation-driven funding system is really how they want school-funding decisions to be made,” Kansas attorney General Derek Schmidt said.

The court ruled in the Gannon v. Kansas case Monday that the state’s annual $4 billion in school spending was still less than what school officials need in order to provide a basic education. They gave the legislature a year to come up with a higher amount it provides its schools.

“We have confidence the legislature can again meet its constitutional duty,” the court said.

The lawyers for the four school districts that are plaintiffs in the case said the ruling was fair and urged the legislature to abide by the court’s ruling next session.

“Armed with this court decision today, the Kansas Legislature has a precise roadmap to guide it to constitutionality,” said Alan Rupe, one of the attorneys representing the school districts that sued said in a statement. “For the sake of all Kansas kids, we hope the legislature arrives soon at that destination.”

The ruling in the long-running case allows district superintendents in the state to start crafting their budgets just months ahead of the school year.

“I think this ruling is a big step forward,” Cynthia Lane, superintendent of Kansas City Kansas Public Schools, told the Kansas City Star. “It truly did validate all the hard work that’s been happening over the last many years to try to find where the right place we should be in terms of funding schools.”

Gov. Jeff Colyer, a Republican, who is running for re-election, said in a statement that he has no intention of raising taxes in the state to satisfy the ruling.

“I look forward to building upon the work we did together to address the remaining issues identified in the ruling,” the governor said.

But some lawmakers have been especially frustrated with the court’s constant haranguing of how the state’s executive and legislative branches decide to spend their money.

The court has determined three times now over the last decade that the legislature’s school funding amount is both inequitable and inadequate. To come to that conclusion, the justices have used the legislature’s agreed-upon standards and commissioned studies that determine how much it will cost for all students to meet those standards.

“I think we have until June 30 of next year to pass a constitutional amendment once the people of Kansas finally put an end to this nightmare,” Rep. John Whitmer said to the Witchita Eagle.

But changing the constitution so that the court would have no say over how the state spends money on the state’s schools requires three-fourths approval from both the House and the Senate and approval by voters. Lawmakers decided earlier this year that they didn’t have enough time to pursue the constitutional change or enough support.

“Today the unelected bureaucrats of the Kansas Supreme Court chose to continue with the endless cycle of school litigation, leading us down the road to an unavoidable tax hike,” Senate President Susan Wagle said in a statement. “When Kansas is on par with Nancy Pelosi’s California for sky-high property taxes and families are fleeing the state, we can thank the Kansas Supreme Court.

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