The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled the state legislature's increased spending on education has met constitutional requirements for public school funding.
The Kansas City Star reports that the state "has substantially complied" with court's mandate for additional funding, but the justices also have decided to retain jurisdiction of the case, so they can make sure lawmakers follow through on promises to boost school spending.
The court's decision comes after a decade-long lawsuit that sought to force the legislature to add bolster funding for educatoin.
Gov. Laura Kelly called the court’s opinion a victory for Kansas.
“Today is a great day for Kansas and for our kids,” says Kelly, a Democrat who took office earlier this year. “Educating our kids is not just one of the best ways to address challenges facing our state, it’s also our moral and constitutional obligation. Yet for years our leaders failed to meet that obligation.”
Some Republican lawmakers have accused the Supreme Court over the years of overstepping its authority in its rulings on education.
Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat and the ranking minority on the House Education Committee, hailed the ruling and the court's decision to retain oversight, which he said will “ensure that the Republicans don’t change their minds next year.”
The current case, known as Gannon, followed up on an earlier case called Montoy in which the Republican-controlled legislature agreed to a funding increase, but then backed away when state finances soured.
Because the justices had released their jurisdiction over Montoy, the school districts had to start all over with new plaintiffs and a new case.
“There’s a history of promises being made today not being fulfilled tomorrow,” Ward says. “So it’s very good the court’s retaining jurisdiction.”
The Gannon case has bedeviled lawmakers for years. They repealed a formula for distributing dollars that had been in place since the 1990s and replaced it – and then replaced it again. They added funding multiple times.
The Kansas Constitution requires the legislature to make “suitable provision for the finance of the educational interests of the state.” The Supreme Court has interpreted that to require adequate and equitable funding.
In a series of decisions in the past few years, the high court repeatedly found the way the state was funding education was unconstitutional.
It wasn’t until 2018 when lawmakers reached a breakthrough. That year, the Legislature passed and then-Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a massive plan to increase annual school funding by $525 million a year. The increase is still being phased in.
It was a repudiation of former Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to finance schools through what he called “block grants” to districts. Brownback touted the plan as a way to give schools flexibility to spend money where they needed to, but the districts argued and the Supreme Court agreed it was essentially just a spending freeze.
The Supreme Court largely signed off on the 2018 Colyer-approved plan, but faulted lawmakers for not accounting for funding lost to inflation. So when the Legislature returned this year, lawmakers advanced a bill adding $90 million in annual funding for four years.
Both Republicans and Democrats supported the plan, and Kelly signed it into law in April.
Video: Watch May 2019 oral arguments on Kansas school finance.