FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 06.26.15
Joyce Eisenmenger Morrison
|Schools for Fair Funding||Somers, Robb and Robb||Lewis, Brisbois , Bisgaard & Smith|
|110 East Broadway||1605 N. Waterfront Pkwy Suite 150|
|Newton, KS 67114||Wichita, KS 67206|
|Phone (316)804-8099||Phone (316) 283 4560||Phone (316) 609 7901|
|Cell: (316) 288 4560||Cell: (316) 304 8573|
Kansas Lower Court Orders Funding for Poor School Districts
And Voids the KS Education Block Grant System
(NEWTON, Kansas) A Kansas District Court agreed with a coalition of school districts that the State chose to renege on funding for poor school districts. The court ordered that $54 million be paid to school districts at once in order to comply with constitutionally mandated equitable funding. The court also ruled that the new education block grant system is unconstitutional.
“This is yet another victory for the kids of Kansas,” said John Robb, Schools for Fair Funding General Counsel. “When will the legislature and the Governor learn that they are not above the law and that the Constitution and court orders must be followed,” he said. “They just wasted 113 days and millions of taxpayer dollars in pursuit of an agenda that our constitution will not allow. It is time to play by the rules. Our kids have waited long enough.”
The ruling found that the mandate from the Supreme Court appeared to be met by actions of the 2014 Kansas legislature when the state represented to the court that they would fully fund equalization of school district resources according to the then existing formulas. The school districts budgeted accordingly. It then appeared that the state had under estimated the costs of compliance. Rather than comply with the constitutional mandates, Governor Brownback and the legislature chose to renege on the court orders that the $54M required to comply with the equalization formulas be paid.
The court also found that the block grant system designed to distribute funding to schools and adopted by the 2015 legislature does not comply with a previous Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The ruling stated that the block grants actually decreased spending on the schools in spite of the district court’s ruling that the states’ schools were already unconstitutionally underfunded.
The ruling stated that the block grant system does not recognize or compensate school districts for changing costs or additional students or additional needs of students. Accordingly, the court struck down the block grant portion of the bill and the clauses that repeal the old school finance formula. This leaves the school appropriation intact but distributes that appropriation according to the old school finance formula. Districts that have changing costs and increased enrollment will be funded for those increased costs.
SFFF Co-Counsel Alan Rupe said “When it comes to school funding, the legislature has spent the entire session ignoring their oath to uphold the constitution. Kansas’ schoolchildren, parents, teachers, school administrators, their lawyers, and the courts are not going away until the Legislature and Governor do what they swore on the Bible that they would do. They must provide a suitable education to all Kansas kids.”
Rupe expects the ruling will be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court by the State. He also expects the State to ask the Supreme Court to stay this ruling while the appeal moves forward. The plaintiff school districts will ask the Supreme Court not to stay the ruling.
Schools For Fair Funding, which represents more than one-third of Kansas public school children, brought the lawsuit – Gannon vs. State of Kansas – in 2010 following state budget reductions that began in 2009. The suit sought to restore the cuts that have been made to all schools after the legislature failed to abide by an earlier settlement.
In March 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that school funding was not equitable between rich and poor districts. The court ordered the Legislature to fix the equity issue right away and spend more money on poor schools. A second issue, whether overall school funding was adequate—back to the district court, which last December ruled that spending was indeed inadequate.
In early 2015, the Legislature passed a new school funding bill that a coalition of school districts argue undid increased funding to create equity between districts, prompting the issue to go back to the district court leading to this most recent court decision.