Law & Courts

Kansas Court Delivers Mixed Message in School Aid Case

By Jessica L. Tonn — August 08, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Kansas Supreme Court surprised people on both sides of the state’s 7-year-old school finance case late last month when it ruled that the state had complied with the court’s order to increase funding and dismissed the case, but declined to say whether the new spending plan is constitutional.

In the court’s 4-2 decision, handed down July 28, the majority wrote that “the legislature materially and fundamentally changed the way K-12 [education] is funded in the state.” In particular, the justices noted that, in passing Senate Bill 549 earlier this year, “the legislature has substantially responded to our concerns” about the need to increase funding for students in special education, bilingual students, and those deemed at risk of academic failure.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, signed the legislation in May. It included a record-high K-12 budget of nearly $2.9 billion for fiscal 2007. The spending plan includes a $466 million increase in state aid over the next three years. During the seven years of legislation, more than $1 billion has been added to the state education budget, according to Alan L. Rupe, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case.

For example, in the 1998-99 school year, base per-pupil aid was $3,720. In the new budget, that amount will reach $4,433 in the 2008-09 school year.

But the majority opinion seemed to ignore part of the court’s own order of June 3, 2005, which required the state not only to increase funding, but also to prove that the increase would result in a “suitable” education for Kansas children as required by the state constitution.

Saying that the new budget is far different from the budget the supreme court originally considered, the majority wrote that it could not pass judgment on the constitutionality of SB 549 in the absence of a new lawsuit.

Rather, the merits of the new finance litigation “must be litigated in a new action filed in the district court,” the opinion reads. “A constitutional challenge of SB 549 must wait for another day.”

Dissenting Opinion

Justice Carol A. Beier, disagreeing with the court’s decision to dismiss the case rather than send it back to the district court, wrote in her dissenting opinion: “If the state has demonstrated compliance with our directives, the legislature has corrected the constitutional deficiencies in the Kansas design for school finance.”

Conversely, she wrote, if the state has not met the spending requirement, the new budget could not be considered constitutional.

“Logically and legally, if we meant what we have said, one cannot be satisfied without the other,” Justice Beier wrote.

Mr. Rupe, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said he had expected the high court’s decision to be more in line with Justice Beier’s opinion. “I expected the court to retain jurisdiction until the legislature completed its trip to adequacy” as required by the court’s earlier decisions, he said. “But it’s kind of hard to be disappointed when you look at what we’ve accomplished,” he added, referring to the increases in state funding since the case was filed.

Sen. John L. Vratil, the Republican vice chairman of the Senate education committee, said that by not determining the constitutionality of the Senate bill, the decision “almost invites litigation.”

Dan Biles, the lawyer representing the state board of education, said he was pleased with the decision, but was also surprised that the court did not rule on the budget’s constitutionality.

When asked if he thought there would be further school finance litigation in Kansas, he answered without hesitation: “Isn’t there always?”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the August 09, 2006 edition of Education Week as Kansas Court Delivers Mixed Message in School Aid Case

Events

Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Is Censuring a 'Rogue' School Board Member a Free Speech Violation? High Court to Decide
The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments on whether official rebukes of officeholders trigger First Amendment concerns.
8 min read
Conceptual image of a board meeting.
A-Digit/DigitalVision Vectors
Law & Courts Critical Race Theory Law Violates Teachers' Free Speech, ACLU Argues in New Lawsuit
The lawsuit alleges Oklahoma's law harms students of color and weakens what all students learn about the state's history.
4 min read
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, above, is named in a new lawsuit alleging that the state's recent law restricting teaching on race and sex is unconstitutional.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, above, is named in a new lawsuit alleging that the state's recent law restricting teaching on race and sex is unconstitutional.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
Law & Courts Parkland Victims' Families Reach $25M Settlement With Broward School District
The largest payments will go to the 17 families whose children or spouses were killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
Scott Travis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
3 min read
In this Feb. 15, 2018, file photo, law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., following a deadly shooting at the school.
In this Feb. 15, 2018, file photo, law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., following a deadly shooting at the school.
Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo
Law & Courts Justice Sotomayor Denies Bid to Block Vaccine Mandate for New York City School Employees
The Supreme Court justice's refusal involves the COVID-19 vaccine requirement in the nation's largest school district.
2 min read
In this Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020 file photo, senior Clinical Research Nurse Ajithkumar Sukumaran prepares the COVID 19 vaccine to administer to a volunteer, at a clinic in London. British scientists are beginning a small study comparing how two experimental coronavirus vaccines might work when they are inhaled by people instead of being injected. In a statement on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, researchers at Imperial College London and Oxford University said a trial involving 30 people would test vaccines developed by both institutions when participants inhale the droplets in their mouths, which would directly target their respiratory systems.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Oct. 1 denied a request to block a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees of the New York City school system.
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP