By Wendy Lecker
The Kansas Legislature has appropriated only a quarter of its $363 million funding target for public education, prompting yet another review by the Kansas Supreme Court to determine State constitutional compliance in the Gannon v. State school funding lawsuit.
With arguments before the Supreme Court set for May 9, both the Plaintiffs and the State have submitted briefs on the central question: has the State finally delivered funding at a level adequate to provide all children the opportunity to meet Kansas academic standards, as required by the Court’s prior orders in Gannon?
The upcoming judicial proceedings are the latest in the decades-long effort of parents, educators and advocates to ensure the Legislature meets the mandate of the Kansas Constitution “to make suitable provision” for financing public education.
In 1990, the first lawsuit challenging inadequate school funding, Mock v. State, resulted in the enactment of a new, constitutional school funding formula. Subsequent backsliding by the Legislature prompted a second school funding case, Montoy v. State, which again led to a revision of the school funding formula and a phase-in of additional state aid.
However, in 2010, the Legislature again made cuts to education funding to pay for tax cuts for wealthy Kansans, prompting the filing of the Gannon lawsuit. In 2014, the Supreme Court affirmed a ruling by a lower court finding the cuts rendered the funding constitutionally inadequate. After several rounds of legislation and appeals, the Court in 2017 found the formula unconstitutional and imposed a deadline of April 30, 2018, to correct the deficiencies.
In June 2018, the Supreme Court found the Legislature’s most recent school funding legislation, enacted in the 2018 session, failed to provide adequate funding to comply with the Constitution. The Court ordered the state to calculate the amount of new funding that needed to be appropriated, based on parameters set by the Court, including an accounting for inflation from Fiscal Year 2019 to Fiscal Year 2023. The Court further ordered the parties to file briefs by April 15, 2019, addressing the legislative response.
Subsequent to the Court’s ruling, the Kansas State Department of Education calculated that the Legislature would need to appropriate $363 million by FY2023, in addition to the funds appropriated by the 2018 legislation, in order to comply with the constitutional mandate.
In response, the Legislature recently enacted Senate Bill 16, which provides a one-time only appropriation of $92 million dollars. In their brief, the Gannon Plaintiffs contend that the new law shortchanges Kansas public schools by $271 million. The Plaintiffs argue that while the State claims it has increased education funding by the required $363 million, that amount includes the appropriations that were before the Court in 2018. The Plaintiffs further argue that the Court ordered the State to calculate the additional money needed, and the Kansas State Board of Education’s calculation of $363 million represents new dollars above and beyond the appropriation in the 2018 legislation.
Through concerted action, sustained over time, advocates for Kansas public school children have moved the State towards full compliance with its constitutional obligation to adequately fund the state’s public schools. The engagement of the Kansas courts, which repeatedly directed the legislative and executive branches to meet that obligation, has played a crucial role in the finance reform effort. The Court, once again, appears ready to answer that constitutional call.
Wendy Lecker is a Senior Attorney at Education Law Center
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