On May 27, the Kansas Supreme Court declared that the latest legislative changes to the state school funding system failed to bring the funding system into compliance with the state’s constitution because it still distributes funding unfairly.
To resolve the problem, the Legislature would need to add an estimated $17 to $30 million for the 2016-17 school year.
In its February 11, 2016 ruling, the Court explained how the funding system was violating the equity requirement of the constitution. The State distributes funding in a manner that causes disparities among school districts and fails to provide students in numerous districts “reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.”
The Court identified the sources of the offending disparities: what are known as the “capital outlay” and “local option budget (LOB)”parts of the state funding system. Finally, the Court set a June 30 deadline for the Legislature to correct these problems. If the Legislature fails to comply, it means no funding system will exist for the new school year. Schools wouldn’t have budgets to operate and would not open in August.
Despite this dire potential result, the Legislature and Governor Brownback have been adamant about major tax cuts for the most well-to-do Kansans, which have caused a series of deep budget shortfalls.
The Court found that since February, the Legislature did cure the unfair funding for “capital outlay” funding. However, the “local option budget (LOB)” funding remains unconstitutional.
“Kansas’ school finance system remains unconstitutional,” the Topeka Capital-Journal reported, “despite this spring’s legislative tweaks, and it needs to be fixed by the end of June.” Plaintiffs’ co-counsel, John Robb, described some of the Legislature’s tweaks as “smoke and mirrors.” Nonetheless, he said, “It’s my hope that the Legislature will now knuckle down to the hard work ahead and simply fix this for the benefit of our kids.”
“Once again the Kansas Supreme Court has shown the courage to stand up for all Kansas school children,” said David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. “It’s time for the state’s legislature and governor to provide the resources the students need.”
In its own syllabus of its decision, the Court spoke clearly and concisely:
- The Kansas Constitution receives its force from the express will of the people and serves as the supreme and paramount law of the state. Through Article 6 of their constitution, the people of Kansas expressly assigned duties to the legislature that both empower and obligate it to make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.
- The supreme court has the power and duty to review legislative enactments and to ensure the legislature’s compliance with its duty under Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution.
- To determine compliance with the equity requirement in Article 6, Kansas courts consider whether school districts have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.
- Based on the record before this court, the State has carried its burden to show it has cured the unconstitutional inequities in capital outlay … [but also] [b]ased on the record before this court, the State has not carried its burden to show it has cured the unconstitutional inequities in the local option budget and supplemental general state aid.
Molly A. Hunter
Director, Education Justice
973-624-1815, x 19
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications