The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the method the state legislature has adopted for funding public schools is inequitable and unconstitutional. The judges gave lawmakers until June 30 to work out a plan that meets constitutional requirements.
The court opinion states that if the legislature cannot enact a school aid formula that equitably distributes money to districts, schools in Kansas may have to shut down.
"In short, if by the close of fiscal year 2016, ending June 30, the State is unable to satisfactorily demonstrate to this court that the legislature has complied with the will of the people...through additional remedial legislation or otherwise, then a lifting of the stay of today's mandate will mean no constitutionally valid school finance system exists through which funds for fiscal year 2017 can lawfully be raised, distributed, or spent," the court stated.
The Wichita Eagle reports that the ruling is the result of a legal challenge from four school districts – Wichita, Hutchinson, Kansas City and Dodge City. Those school systems contended that a block grant system championed by Gov. Sam Brownback and passed into law by the legislature in 2015 did not meet the state’s constitutional burden to provide suitable funding for public education.
Before that law was enacted, schools were funded through a formula that included a per-pupil amount plus “weightings” for for specific categories of students and district characteristics.
"The legislature's unsuccessful attempts to equitably, i.e., fairly, allocate resources among the school districts not only creates uncertainty in planning the 2016-2017 school year, but also has the potential to interrupt the operation of Kansas' public schools," the court stated. "We desire to avoid this uncertainty....The legislature's chosen path during the 2016 session will ultimately determine whether Kansas students will be treated fairly and the schoolhouse doors will be open to them in August for the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year."
The Kansas NEA called the court ruling "courageous and well-reasoned."
"Kansas educators have been working harder than ever to deal with the realities of irresponsible tax cuts, the corresponding revenue decline and the increase in need these policies have produced,"says KNEA president Mark Farr. "On behalf of the educators of Kansas, I call upon the legislature to end the partisan gamesmanship and to fulfill its obligation to the kids of Kansas without reservation or retribution.”