In a high-profile legal battle over school finance, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled March 7 that the state’s funding system is unconstitutional because it did not provide equity in public schools. The court ordered a lower court to go back and determine proper levels of funding, but it did not set a deadline for the lower court to act.
Plaintiffs in the Gannon v. Kansas case, filed in 2010, have sought major boosts to school funding on the order of $440 million in additional annual spending. The state’s highest court did not order any specific increase in K-12 aid.
However, it did require a state district court panel to determine the proper level of funding for Kansas schools. It also required legislators to restore funding to certain programs aimed at helping relatively poor districts by July 1 of this year, the Associated Press reported.
"[T]he state failed to meet its duty to provide equity in public education as required under Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution,” the court ruled.
The Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit grew out of a previous K-12 funding case. In 2005, the state supreme court ruled in Montoy v. Kansas that the state had underfunded public schools.
The state legislature subsequently agreed to increase funding to meet the requirements of the court’s ruling, beginning in 2006. But the plaintiffs in Gannon alleged that Kansas reneged on its promise when it instituted steep state budget cuts that began in 2009 in the wake of the recession.
In the fiscal 2014 budget, the Kansas government is providing $1.9 billion to public schools, although that figure doesn’t include any money stemming from the Montoy settlement.
The state, though, argued in Gannon that the Kansas Constitution did not give courts and districts the power to trump legislators’ discretion over school funding levels. Kansas Solicitor General Stephen R. McAllister told the supreme court that dramatically boosting K-12 funding would hurt the rest of the state’s budget.
The District Court of Shawnee County ruled last year in favor of the Gannon plaintiffs.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the March 12, 2014 edition of Education Week as K-12 Funding System Unconstitutional, Kansas High Court Says