Law & Courts

Kansas Funding Feud Could Spark Court, Legislative Clash

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 10, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A long-running feud over K-12 spending levels in Kansas threatens to reach new levels of enmity, as lawmakers worry they could end up at odds with the state’s highest court on the amount of state money public schools are entitled to receive.

The Kansas Supreme Court is currently considering a lawsuit, Gannon v. Kansas, brought by school districts claiming that the state has not met its constitutional obligation to make “suitable provision” of resources to K-12. But even if the districts prevail, their path forward in the face of a state legislature that has expressed open hostility to such a ruling is uncertain.

The case highlights a landscape of legal fights over education funding around the nation that include a convoluted court battle over 2011 cuts in Texas and the Washington state legislature’s ongoing struggle to meet the demands of a 2012 ruling by that state’s supreme court.

The case currently awaiting a decision in Kansas was filed in 2010. The 63 plaintiff districts (out of 286 districts in Kansas) argue that the state is failing to abide by the settlement of a prior school funding lawsuit, Montoy v. Kansas. As part of the 2006 settlement of Montoy, the legislature agreed to phase in an additional $466 million in school funding over three years.

But the districts now argue that the state has “denied school districts the funds promised by the Montoy decision” because of budget reductions that began in fiscal 2009. The state also cut income taxes significantly earlier this year. In fiscal 2014, Kansas is providing $1.9 billion in general state aid to public schools (none of it from Montoy settlement funds).

The districts also say the costs of educating students has grown beyond what the Montoy settlement called for.

Big Potential Bill

If the plaintiffs receive the funding they seek from the court under the Montoy settlement, the state would in fact have to increase its K-12 spending by roughly $650 million annually, boosting per-pupil spending to $4,500 from about $3,800. (On the Education Week Research Center’s Quality Counts 2013 survey of states, Kansas received a D grade for state spending levels.)

However, it is unclear to what extent the justices, even if they rule that the state must spend more on public schools, will prescribe the exact amount of additional funding.

Several options remain open to the court, in theory, such as allowing the state to commission a new K-12 funding study to determine appropriate new spending increases, said Mark Tallman, the associate executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards.

In oral arguments in the Gannon case that took place in October, at least one state supreme court justices appeared sympathetic to the districts’ case—Justice Eric Rosen said of the Montoy settlement: “It stands before me, in my eyes, as a broken promise.”

But in a legal brief defending the state, Kansas Solicitor General Stephen R. McAllister argued that the districts were not truly concerned about the state constitution: “This case is about money and, most importantly, it is about who decides how much funding is ‘suitable’ for Kansas schools.”

Some frustrated legislators have also indicated through statements to the press that they believe the court would be overstepping its bounds in dictating to lawmakers precise spending amounts for public schools. Last year, lawmakers also weighed a bill that would have prohibited the court from trumping their legal prerogative with respect to K-12 aid.

“What it boils down to is, it is the legislature’s [position] to be able to determine the actual amount,” said state Sen. Steve Abrams, a Republican and the chairman of the Senate education committee. “If [the justices] would come back and say some discrete amount, that might cause some issues.”

Waiting Game

Officials say it is unclear if the court will rule before the state legislature reconvenes on Jan. 12. Mr. Tallman indicated there is a general sentiment in the state that the court will likely rule in favor of the plaintiffs, but Mr. Abrams disagreed, saying there is no consensus as to the court’s probable decision.

Asked about recent inquiries from state lawmakers about how to deal with any court-ordered funding increase, Dale Dennis, a deputy commissioner of the Kansas education department, said, “The only questions we have are, how much would it cost and what would it cost if we phased it in over a three-year period.”

Mr. Dennis added that the department has no position on the suit.

Last month, Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, hosted a meeting that included education officials to discuss the situation and seek common ground, the Lawrence Journal-World reported, but no clear solution emerged.

Complicating the matter is that 2014 is a major election year in Kansas. Gov. Brownback and members of the House of Representatives are up for election and could be reluctant to reverse recent tax cuts to pay for any new court-imposed K-12 spending requirements. And voters will be able to determine whether to “retain” two supreme court justices, who initially are appointed by the governor.

And if legislators ultimately are required to significantly increase K-12 funding, Mr. Tallman pointed out, they could be inclined to pair higher state aid with increasing charter school options and other education governance changes.

“I don’t think anyone thinks the controversy would be limited to just the amount of school funding,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the December 11, 2013 edition of Education Week as Kansas Funding Feud Raises Prospect of Court, Legislative Clash

Events

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
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.

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 Judge Strikes Down Title IX Guidance on LGBTQ+ Students. Here's Why It Matters
In a June 11 ruling, Texas judge said the Education Department has no authority to expand protections under Title IX.
8 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas on June 22, 2017.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas on June 22, 2017. His office sued the Biden administration in an attempt to invalidate guidance it released in June 2021 stating it would interpret Title IX to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Tony Gutierrez/AP
Law & Courts Court Backs School That Barred Student's 'Two Genders' Shirt
The court said the shirt could be understood to demean transgender and gender-nonconforming students, and administrators could prohibit it.
5 min read
ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman, left, and Liam Morrison speak at a press conference following oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit on Feb. 8, 2024.
David Cortman, senior counsel and vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom, left, and middle school student Liam Morrison speak to reporters following oral arguments over Morrison's "There Are Only Two Genders" T-shirt before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston on Feb. 8, 2024.
Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom
Law & Courts Federal Judge Overturns New Hampshire Law on Teaching 'Divisive Concepts'
The judge holds that the law is unconstitutionally vague because it does not make clear to educators what topics they may not teach.
4 min read
Students walk into the front doors at Hinsdale Middle High School, in Hinsdale, N.H., on the first day of school on Aug. 30, 2022.
Students walk into Hinsdale Middle High School, in Hinsdale, N.H., in August 2022. A federal judge has struck down a New Hampshire law that bars the teaching of "divisive concepts" to K-12 students.
Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court Turns Down Case Challenging School District's Transgender Policies
The case involves a policy allowing information to be withheld from parents considered not supportive of a gender-transitioning child.
3 min read
This Oct. 4, 2018, photo shows the U.S. Supreme Court at sunset in Washington. The Supreme Court has declined to take up an appeal from parents in Oregon who want to prevent transgender students from using locker rooms and bathrooms of the gender with which they identify, rather than their sex assigned at birth.
This Oct. 4, 2018, photo shows the U.S. Supreme Court at sunset in Washington. The court has declined to take up an appeal from parents in Maryland challenging a school district's policy on gender-support plans for students.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP