For Immediate Release – February 11, 2016
Kansas Supreme Court Orders Legislature to Level the Playing Field for Less Wealthy Districts
New School Finance System Must be Implemented on Equity by June 30
(Topeka, KS) A coalition of Kansas school districts said the Kansas Supreme Court school funding ruling today is affirmation that the Kansas constitutional promise to education must be kept. Schools for Fair Funding represents more than one-third of Kansas public school children. Today’s ordered actions will simply fulfill what the Kansas constitution required all along, according to SFFF. “Our kids should not be required to go to court to receive equitable funding,” said Shelly Kiblinger, Superintendent of USD 308 in Hutchinson. “The schoolchildren won again. The Kansas constitution requires that less wealthy districts have a level playing field. That must now happen.”
“School districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort,” said John Robb, SFFF co-counsel. “This means, as stated by the court, that property tax equalization payments must be made to the less wealthy school districts. The payments are not optional. The payments are not subservient to any self-made budget crises due to the income tax cuts.”
The court set a deadline of June 30, 2016 for the legislature to demonstrate that they have cured the problem. The court said ” “In short, if by the close of fiscal year 2016, ending June 30, the State is unable to satisfactorily demonstrate to this court that the legislature has complied with the will of the people as expressed in Article 6 of their constitution through additional remedial legislation or otherwise, then a lifting of the stay of today’s mandate will mean no constitutionally valid school finance system exists through which funds for fiscal year 2017 can lawfully be raised, distributed, or spent.”
SFFF said the court also ruled that the legislature must comply with the constitutional requirement to adequately fund the schools while they fix the equity flaws. The constitution requires that funding remain both adequate and equitable while the legislature considers a new formula. “It is time for the governor and legislative leaders to uphold their sworn oaths and actually fund the schools,” said Alan Rupe, SFFF co-counsel. “Payments to the state pension fund are no substitute for classroom dollars,” Rupe said, which is a reference to State contributions to the teacher’s pension plan being considered as school funding.
While today’s ruling is long overdue and needed, the main thrust of the Gannon case remains to be resolved: adequate funding for all schools. The trial court has now found the schools to be underfunded by about $600 million for a second time in the past three years. The Supreme Court will consider this issue of adequacy after the legislature remedies the equity issues and SFFF expects the court to affirm the trial court again.
The Kansas courts are the final authority on adhering to Kansas constitutional standards. According to SFFF the people of Kansas’ constitutional standards must always prevail over ever changing legislative efforts. “This cat-and-mouse game the legislature is playing must stop,” Robb said. “It is harming our children. Today’s ruling said as much.”
Schools For Fair Funding, 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 was sent back to the district court, which ruled in December 2014 spending was indeed inadequate.
In early 2015, the Legislature passed a new school funding bill that a coalition of school districts argued undid increased funding to create equity between districts, prompting the issue to go back to the district court. The state appealed and the Kansas Supreme Court justices ruled that the legislature did not fix the problem.
The question of whether the State is adequately funding education is expected to be argued before the Kansas Supreme Court when the equity issue has been resolved.