By Wendy Lecker
The Kansas Supreme Court has found the State’s most recent school funding formula to be adequate but will retain jurisdiction to make certain the State fully phases in required funding increases through 2023. The Court’s ruling, issued June 14, is the latest decision in Gannon v. State, Kansas’ long-running lawsuit challenging inadequate public education funding.
The Gannon case was filed in 2010, after the State walked away from implementing a funding remedy ordered by the Supreme Court in an earlier case, Montoy v. State. In a 2005 decision in Montoy, the Court threw out the State’s school finance system and ordered reforms to ensure Kansas school children adequate resources to give them a meaningful opportunity to achieve academic standards. The Montoy case ended in 2006, when the Court ruled that new legislation substantially met constitutional requirements.
In 2008, however, before the State fully implemented the Montoy remedy, it began making significant reductions in school funding. The Gannon lawsuit was filed in response.
The Gannon plaintiffs – parents, students and school districts – are represented by attorneys and Kansans Alan Rupe and John Robb. Alan and John, who also handled the Montoy v. State lawsuit, are among the nation’s most experienced plaintiffs’ lawyers in school funding cases.
In its initial Gannon decisions, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s rulings that the State’s action’s resulted in inadequate and inequitable funding levels and ordered funding reforms.
The plaintiffs were forced to seek relief from the Supreme Court several times after the Legislature and Governor failed to enact the required reforms. In 2018, the Court ruled that additional funds provided by the State addressed funding equity but did not ensure adequate funding levels.
In its June 14 decision, the Court found the State had finally substantially complied with the constitutional requirement for funding adequacy. The Court noted the plaintiffs’ agreement that a $90 million increase was adequate for 2019-20. The Court also found the State provided good faith estimates for inflation to be phased-in through successive year increases through 2023. Most important, the Court is retaining jurisdiction over the Gannon lawsuit to ensure the State follows through with the required funding increases. In a ruling similar to the 2009 New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Abbott v. Burke, the Kansas Supreme Court pointed to Kansas’ long-term resistance to providing adequate funding and noted its inherent power and responsibility to enforce judicial remedies, especially those relating to constitutional rights.
The Gannon litigation represents a powerful example of the critical role courts can play in advocacy efforts to ensure states fairly fund public education. The Gannon rulings have safeguarded the constitutional right to education against repeated efforts by the legislative and executive branches to severely reduce Kansas’ investment in the education of the state’s children. No doubt, the Gannon plaintiffs and their experienced counsel will continue their vigilance to make certain lawmakers follow through on the latest court mandate to effectuate the education rights of children across the state.
Wendy Lecker is a Senior Attorney at Education Law Center
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