Court Rejects Kansas School Financing System
The Kansas Supreme Court has declared that the state inadequately finances its public schools, in a long-awaited opinion released Jan. 3.
The preliminary decision agreed with a lower-court judge’s 2003 ruling that the legislature has failed to meet the burden imposed on it by the Kansas Constitution to “make suitable provision for finance” of K-12 schools.
The unanimous opinion in Montoy v. State of Kansas serves as a warning to state legislators, who were given until April 12 to address the school finance dilemma. A final and prescriptive version of the ruling will be issued at that time.
“We will withhold our formal opinion until corrective legislation has been enacted or April 12, 2005, whichever occurs first,” the court declared in its ruling.
The plaintiffs in the case, the school districts of Salina and Dodge City, have argued that the current school financing structure leaves schools severely underfunded. The districts also argue that they are unable to meet the needs of their students, especially those schools in medium-size and large districts that tend to have disproportionately high numbers of minority and special education students.
Agreeing with the plaintiffs, the high court added that the finance formula is based on “former spending levels and political compromise,” rather than the actual costs of education.
Though the ruling did not include specific instructions for lawmakers, it did conclude that “it is clear increased funding will be required.”
The justices went on to say that “the equity with which the funds are distributed and the actual costs of education, including appropriate levels of administrative costs, are critical factors for the legislature to consider in achieving a suitable formula for financing education.”
In a statement released the day of the ruling, Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline said that the legislature could comply with the decision by adjusting the formula used for distributing K-12 aid so that districts with high numbers of students deemed at risk get funding increases.
The Kansas state legislature reconvenes on Jan. 10.