On February 11, in Gannon v. State, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed a trial court ruling that the current state education finance system violates the Kansas Constitution, specifically because it distributes funds unfairly.
“The Kansas Supreme Court is getting serious that the legislature simply must fix the equity problems between rich districts and poor districts,” said John Robb, co-counsel for the Gannon plaintiffs. “In the current year, the legislature withheld $73 million in equalization payments from poor districts only. If this is not fixed by June 30, the court said they would shut down all schools in Kansas until it is fixed.”
In its decision, the Court explained that Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution requires the legislature to “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state … Article 6 contains both adequacy and equity requirements. It necessitates that the legislature provide enough funds to ensure public school students receive a constitutionally adequate education and that the funds’ distribution does not result in unreasonable wealth-based disparities among districts.”
Alan Rupe, also co-counsel for plaintiffs, said, “We are gratified by the Court’s finding that the State failed to cure the unconstitutional inequities. While certain legislators suggest that the school finance litigation is being monitored by an ‘activist court’, the Kansas Supreme Court has given the legislature a second chance in an act of extreme deference. Nonetheless, the Court had no choice but to ‘obey the will of the people as expressed in their constitution’.”?He concluded, “Hopefully, this opinion will encourage the legislature to do the same and uphold the will of the people and comply with the requirements of the Kansas Constitution.”
The Court had found an earlier funding system inequitable, and the legislature revised the system and brought it into compliance with the Constitution during its 2014 session. However, in its 2015 session the legislature reversed itself, and the Gannon plaintiffs returned to the Kansas courts, arguing that the funding system had become unfair (inequitable) and therefore unconstitutional again.
Mr. Rupe called the ruling “a win for every kid in Kansas that attends public schools, particularly those kids that are in high poverty areas.”
The adequacy component of Article 6 was not before the Kansas Supreme Court in this appeal. In fact, the adequacy part of the case has been stayed until the legislature complies with the equity mandate.
Molly A. Hunter
Director, Education Justice
973-624-1815, x 19
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications