| March 7
March 7 Kansas is violating the state
constitution in its funding of public schools, a duty that is
mandatory and not to be left to the whims of state legislators,
the Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Friday.
But while the court upheld part of a lower court finding in
favor of a group of public school districts claiming the state
should provide more money for education, the court also reversed
part of that lower court ruling, and remanded some issues back
for further analysis by a district court panel.
The lower court ruling, issued in January 2013, found Kansas
was short-changing its students, and rejected as illogical a
state argument that it could not afford increases for school
funding at the same time that the state was cutting taxes.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Republican lawmakers have
argued that school funding levels should not be determined by
courts but by legislators.
In the ruling issued Friday, the Kansas high court pointed
to Article 6 of the state constitution, which says "the
legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the
educational interests" of the state.
"The intent of the people of Kansas is unmistakable," the
Kansas Supreme Court ruling states. "The Kansas constitutional
command envisions something more than funding public schools by
The ruling Friday comes as Brownback's re-election campaign
is under attack by critics who say the sweeping tax cuts he has
championed have come at the expense of schools and poor
residents who have seen public assistance programs cut.
Brownback and Republican legislators have been slashing taxes to
try to spur job growth in the state.
The governor had only limited comments immediately following
"This is a complex decision requiring thoughtful review,"
Brownback said in a statement. "I will work with leadership in
the Kansas Senate and House to determine a path forward that
honors our tradition of providing a quality education to every
child and that keeps our schools open, our teachers teaching and
our students learning."
In the ruling issued Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court
distinguished between the "adequacy" of funding for schools and
"equity" in such funding.
It found that the district court was wrong in how it
determined whether or not Kansas was meeting its duty for
adequate funding of public education and instructed the district
court panel to revisit that issue. The lower court had ruled
that the state must provide at least $4,492 per pupil annually
for the state's roughly 600,000 students.
"Total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in
education," required by the state constitution, the court wrote
in its opinion.
But on the equity issue, the court found that the district
court panel correctly determined that Kansas was acting
unconstitutionally, relying on "wealth-based" disparities to
deny certain school districts money they were entitled to.
The state historically has made state aid payments to
certain school districts but did not authorize such payments for
fiscal 2010 and lawmakers have prohibited any transfers from the
state's general fund for such payments through the fiscal year
ending June 30, 2016.
The court has given the Kansas legislature until July 1 to
fully fund its capital outlay for state aid to schools.