Law & Courts

Ruling Sends Kansas Back to Square One on K-12 Funding

By Daarel Burnette II — October 10, 2017 3 min read

After years of frustrating and politically contentious wrangling over school funding, Kansas policymakers find themselves back at the drawing board in the wake of that state’s supreme court ruling that struck down the latest K-12 funding method as unconstitutional because it still fails to assure an “adequate” and “equitable” public education for the state’s nearly 500,000 students.

Though the court gave state lawmakers until the middle of next year to come up with a new system, that’s likely to do little to cool the tensions the fight has set off between state and local officials, or the bad blood between legislators and the judges they say are overstepping their mandate.

“This ruling shows clear disrespect for the legislative process and puts the rest of state government and programs in jeopardy,” stated Republican Senate leaders Susan Wagle, Jeff Longbine, and Jim Denning in response to the Oct. 2 ruling. “As promised, Senate Republicans remain committed to providing every Kansas student with an exceptional education; however, raising taxesto fund this unrealistic demand is not going to happen.”

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in a statement called the ruling “another regrettable chapter in the never-ending cycle of litigation over Kansas school funding. The court should not substitute its decision for that of the legislature.”

But the ruling brought elation amongst the state’s public school officials and their lawyers.

“It’s another in a line of great court decisions for Kansas kids,” said John Robb, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers. “The court has recognized multiple times that Kansas kids are not getting what the constitution guarantees them.”

Falling Short

In its fifth ruling regarding the case, the state’s high court rejected the latest formula that included a $293 million spending increase this fiscal year for K-12 in an attempt to satisfy the court’s demand. The court also said expanding local tax revenue leads to a public school system of haves and have nots.

Lawyers for the four districts that originally sued the state in the Gannon v. Kansas case said districts should be given more flexibility in spending and that nothing less than $893 million over the next two years—a number based on a 2016 ruling by the state’s high court — would satisfy the constitutionalrequirement or help districts close achievement gaps. The state is spending close to $4.3 billion on K-12 in the current fiscal year.

“While we stay the issuance of today’s mandate through June 30, 2018, after that date we will not allow ourselves to be placed in the position of being complicit actors in the continuing deprivation of a constitutionally adequate and equitable education owed to hundreds of thousands of Kansas schoolchildren,” the judges said in the tersely worded ruling.

The justices asked lawmakers to present something before April 30 of next year so the court will have time before the next school year commences to determine whether the funding formula passes muster.

The funding formula, approved in the waning days of the legislature’s session this year, more closely dictated how schools should spend their money, cracked down on academically wayward schools, and expanded the use of all-day kindergarten and vouchers. The state’s attorney general said the spending methods would dramatically improve educational outcomes and that the court should be patient to see how effective the funding formula was.

Almost a quarter of the state’s students don’t meet basic reading and writing standards.

The legislature, already dealing with a series of spending cuts after a years-longrevenue shortfall, will now have to figure out how to raise more money to spend on its public schools—and do so facing a deadline in the 2018 election year. Legislators have been reluctant to raise taxes, though a growing chorus of teachers and parents in the state have pushed for more spending on schools.

The ruling also will likely amp up the ongoing and closely watched battle between the state’s Republican-dominated legislature and the appointed supreme court over who should decide how to spend money on public schools and how to close an achievement gap between the state’s wealthier, white students and its poor and minority students.

The state’s legislature has said in the past that the court is out of its lane in telling legislatures how to spend. As in previous rulings, the Oct. 2 decision found the funding formula unconstitutional, but did not tell the state how much to spend or what to spend the money on. It also did not give many clues as to how the state should work to improve its schools.

A political effort to unseat the judges and change the language of the state’s constitution in 2016 failed.

A version of this article appeared in the October 11, 2017 edition of Education Week as Ruling Sends Kansas Back to Square One on K-12 Funding

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
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

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 California COVID-19 Closures Infringed Private School Parents' Rights, Federal Court Rules
A federal appeals court holds that the state's closure rules for private schools were not narrowly tailored to serve compelling interests.
4 min read
Image shows a courtroom and gavel.
imaginima/E+
Law & Courts 'I Just Want to Play.' Judge Halts W. Va. Law Barring Transgender Girls From Girls' Sports
Ruling for an 11-year-old transgender girl, the judge holds that the law likely violates the equal-protection clause and Title IX.
3 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Praying Coach v. District That Suspended Him: What's Next in Fight Over Religious Expression
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit declined to reconsider an earlier panel ruling that sided with the school district.
4 min read
Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, center in blue, kneels and prays after his team lost to Centralia in Bremerton, Wash., on Oct. 16, 2015. Kennedy, who was suspended for praying at midfield after games, has filed a discrimination complaint on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission according to The Liberty Institute, a Texas-based law firm representing the coach.
Joe Kennedy, center in blue, kneels and prays after a game in October 2015 when he was the assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash. In a long-running legal fight, Kennedy contends he has First Amendment free-speech and free-exercise-of-religion rights to express his Christian faith while on the job. The case is likely headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lindsey Wasso/The Seattle Times via AP
Law & Courts Appeals Court Again Backs Transgender Student, But on Narrower Grounds Amid Signs of Rift
A federal appeals panel removed a holding for student Drew Adams based on Title IX, perhaps to ward off a rehearing by the full court.
4 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+