Kansas Supreme Court Rules School Funding Formula 'Inadequate' Under State Constitution

Mar 2, 2017

Updated at 12:46 p.m.

As expected, the Kansas Supreme Court this morning ruled that Kansas’ school funding formula is inadequate under the Kansas Constitution.

In an 83-page decision, the court gave the Legislature until June 30 to address the state’s public education financing system.

Read the full Gannon ruling here.

The decision comes after the court ruled earlier that the school funding formula had failed to meet the equity prong of the Kansas Constitution.

The long-running case was brought by four school districts in 2010. They argued the state had inequitably and inadequately funded public education, in violation of the Kansas Constitution.

The AP reports:

The state spends more than half its tax dollars, or nearly $4.1 billion under the current budget, on aid to its 286 local school districts, for an average of about $8,900 per student. But the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, districts argued that the figure should be about 20 percent higher, boosting annual spending by almost $800 million, or roughly $1,740 per student.

After a 16-day trial that produced a 21,000-page record, a three-judge panel upheld the districts’ challenge.

The Supreme Court later sent the case back to the panel after finding that it did not apply the correct standard in concluding the state violated the Constitution.

The panel, after applying that standard – set out in a Kentucky Supreme Court case that was codified by the Kansas Legislature -- reached the same conclusion it had before. In its decision today, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the panel’s finding that the state’s block grant formula is constitutionally inadequate.

“In effect, it is merely a fund created by freezing school districts' funding for 2 school years at a prior year's level,” the court held. “It also is only minimally responsive to financially important changing conditions such as increased enrollment.”

The court found that the state not only is failing to provide about a quarter of all its public school K-12 students with basic math and reading skills, but is “also leaving behind significant groups of harder-to-educate students.”

It noted that 15,000 of the state’s African American students, or half of all African American public school students in Kansas, are not proficient in reading and math, “subjects at the heart of an adequate education.”

And it further noted that about 33,000 Hispanic students, or more than a third of that student population in Kansas, are not proficient in reading and math.

“Plaintiffs have also proven by substantial competent evidence that the student performance reflected in this data is related to funding levels,” the court wrote.

“Accordingly, we conclude the state's public education financing system, through its structure and implementation, is not reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the minimum constitutional standards of adequacy.”

Reaction to the decision was immediate. Gubernatorial spokeswoman Melika Willoughby said in a tweet that Gov. Sam Brownback's office was "reviewing the decision and will make a further statement once we have fully assessed the Court's opinion."

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley says they’ll have to pick up the pace and probably work overtime to meet the deadline.

“I speak from the experience of having been in the House in 1992 when it literally took us two sessions to basically put it together," Hensley says. "We don’t have that kind of time now.”

Alan Rupe, an attorney who represented the school districts, said in a statement that the court "has finally confirmed what anyone who has recently stepped inside a Kansas public school already knew: Kansas public education is significantly underfunded."

David Smith, chief of staff for the Kansas City Kansas Public Schools, said in a phone interview that the state needs to create "sensible tax policy to undo tax changes that have, essentially, bankrupted the state."

“Certain kids cost more to education to adequate levels than other kids and funding ought to be tied to the needs of the students,” he said. “I think what people have come to understand is that any funding formula that is efficient and effective will look very much like the old one because it’s going to be tied to what it actually costs to educate students.”

Related: Head Of Wichita Public Schools Optimistic After School Funding Ruling

The Supreme Court did not say what would constituted adequate funding. It said the Legislature could choose to enact minimal standards or exceed them.

"Whether the legislature chooses to exceed these minimal standards is up to that deliberative body and ultimately the people of Kansas who elect those legislators," it wrote.

Dan Margolies reports for KMUW’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.