Law & Courts

Kansas Court Orders School Finance Fix

By David J. Hoff — January 11, 2005 4 min read

The Kansas Supreme Court has given state lawmakers a challenging assignment for the legislative session that starts this week.

Define what constitutes the “suitable” education that the state constitution guarantees Kansas students, the court said, and use an objective way to calculate what it will cost to provide one to the state’s 471,000 pre-K-12 students.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas talks to a 6th grade class in Manhattan, Kan., last spring. The Democratic governor failed to win legislative backing last year for her school finance package.

Oh, and finish the task by April 12.

That order came last week in a preliminary ruling in a 6-year-old finance lawsuit against the state, in which the supreme court ruled that the legislature “has failed to meet its burden” imposed by the constitution to suitably finance public schools.

A 2001 report estimated that the state fell about $800 million a year short of doing so.

“Kansas has never defined the services that the school must provide,” said Sen. John Vratil, the vice chairman of the Senate education committee. “It seems logical to me that it’s got to be the first step.”

But the ultimate solution, which must include Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, will be difficult to negotiate, Mr. Vratil and other members of the GOP-controlled legislature say.

While many legislators have pledged to vote against any tax increase, the reality is that it would be hard to make a major increase in education aid without raising taxes, Mr. Vratil said.

“It’ll be very difficult, if not impossible, to find [the money] in our current budget,” the Republican said. “If you do that, you devastate other areas of our budget. We’re going to have to convince people of the wisdom of a tax increase.”

Struggle Ahead

Other lawmakers are taking a wait-and-see approach.

The legislature needs to decide how much complying with the decision will cost before committing to financing new taxes, said Rep. Kathe Decker, a Republican and the chairwoman of a House-Senate committee studying school finance.

Gov. Sebelius was scheduled to give her State of the State Address on Jan. 10. Last year, she outlined a $300 million package of tax increases to help pay for changes required by the trial court in the case. But the legislature adjourned without adopting her plan. (“Kansas Judge Orders State to Shut Schools,” May 19, 2004.)

States big and small will face similar debates in this year’s legislative sessions.

New York must comply with a 2003 ruling from its highest court declaring the state’s funding of New York City schools to be inadequate. (“Pataki Speech Mostly Mum on New York Finance Case,” this issue.)

Elsewhere, Texas legislators will be seeking a solution to a state judge’s ruling last year that the state’s school funding system needs big revisions. (“Judge’s Ruling Cites Flaws in Texas’ School Finance System,” Dec. 8, 2004.)

In Kansas, the debate will center on just what a “suitable education” is and how to calculate what it would cost to provide that to all of its students.

In its brief opinion in Montoy v. State of Kansas, handed down Jan. 4, the state supreme court said that the current financing system is based on “political and other factors not relevant to education.”

The unanimous seven-member court cited a study commissioned by the legislature to estimate the cost of reaching the state’s academic goals.

That study, which was completed in 2001, estimated that Kansas fell about $800 million short of what was required. The state now spends $2.4 billion a year on K-12 schools.

Although the supreme court said the study was “competent evidence” that the state had failed to meet its constitutional obligations, it did not endorse the $800 million price tag.

The study—conducted by the nationally respected consultants John Augenblick and John Myers—should be the guideline for debate, said the lawyer representing the two school districts and the students that filed the lawsuit.

“The supreme court and [the trial judge] both gave the road map for the fix,” said the lawyer Alan L. Rupe, who is based in Wichita. “That road map is Augenblick and Myers.”

But Mr. Vratil said the legislature would look for other research as well.

The study used only one of several methods for estimating the cost of providing an adequate education, he said. “That whole area [of research] is the subject of differing opinions,” he noted. In addition, Mr. Vratil said, the study didn’t consider ways that the state could revise its funding formula and require administrative changes that would save money.

Stay Tuned

The high court issued its preliminary ruling last week to guide lawmakers during their new legislative session. The court said it would issue a formal opinion after the April 12 deadline.

“The legislature, by its action or lack thereof in the 2005 session, will dictate what form our final remedy, if necessary, will take,” the unsigned ruling concluded.

Mr. Rupe, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said that the court’s warning gives the legislators an incentive to do the job right.

Last year, lawmakers failed in an attempt to comply with a lower court’s ruling that the state’s school aid system was inadequate.

“When the Kansas Supreme Court is looking over your shoulder,” Mr. Rupe said, “it’s a pretty big deal for Kansas legislators.”

Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline said it was “appropriate” for the legislature to await the supreme court’s decision. This year, though, lawmakers must act, Mr. Kline said in a statement. “Inaction by the governor and the legislature in the face of this order is unacceptable and invites further action by the court,” he said.

Editorial Administrative Assistant Jessica L. Tonn contributed to this report.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2005 edition of Education Week as Kansas Court Orders School Finance Fix

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
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
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

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 Let Transgender Student Play on Girls' Team, Feds Say, Supporting Her Suit Over a State Law
A West Virginia law barring transgender girls from girls' sports teams violates Title IX and U.S. Constitution, the Justice Department says.
3 min read
Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre, S.D., on March 11, 2021, to protest a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues.
Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre, S.D., to protest a ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues, one of dozens of measures considered in state legislatures this year.
Stephen Groves/AP
Law & Courts Some Takeaways for Educators in Supreme Court Rulings on Obamacare, Religious Liberties
The justices rejected a challenge to Obamacare on standing grounds while ruling narrowly in a case involving foster care in Philadelphia.
6 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2021.
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2021.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
Law & Courts The Opioid Crisis Hit Schools Hard. Now They Want Drug Companies to Pay Up
School districts have collectively spent at least $127 billion on services for students affected by opioid addiction, recent court filings say.
12 min read
An arrangement of Oxycodone pills in New York, pictured on Aug. 29, 2018. A new study shoots down the notion that medical marijuana laws can prevent opioid overdose deaths. Chelsea Shover of Stanford University School of Medicine and colleagues reported the findings Monday, June 10, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The painkiller Oxycodone is among the opioids implicated in a health crisis that has school districts joining with states and municipalities in seeking damages from drug manufacturers.
Mark Lennihan/AP
Law & Courts High Court Asks Biden Administration Views on Harvard Affirmative Action in Admissions
Some had expected U.S. Supreme Court justices to jump at the chance to reconsider the practices in education, but that's delayed for now.
3 min read
In this Nov. 10, 2020 photo the sun rises behind the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court seemed concerned Tuesday, Dec. 1, about the impact of siding with food giants Nestle and Cargill and ending a lawsuit that claims they knowingly bought cocoa beans from farms in Africa that used child slave labor. The court was hearing arguments in the case by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Supreme Court is still weighing whether to hear a case challenging Harvard University's race-conscious admissions policies.
Alex Brandon/AP