Kansas Supreme Court finds school funding inadequate (again)

Gannon school funding case opinion released. Legislature must fix finance adequacy and equitability by June 30.

— reporting and analysis by David Neal, senior editor—
Working Journalist Press
March 2, 2017 11:45 AM

—last updated March 2, 2017 2:10 PM—

TOPEKA, KS - Bookending last June's Kansas Supreme Court ruling on the equitability of the state's school funding practices, the Court's decision on 'adequacy' of funding was just released.

Kansas Judicial Center

Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka, KS.

(Credit ‐ Dreamstime)

Article 6 of the state Constitution of Kansas provides for a free state funded public education for Kansas children. The 'suitability' provision – which the Court has found to include two parts 'equitability' and 'adequacy'– section 6(b) says in part:

"...The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state. No tuition shall be charged for attendance at any public school to pupils required by law to attend such school, except such fees or supplemental charges as may be authorized by law."

The Supreme Court today ruled current school funding in Kansas under law is inadequate.

The Court ruling today further stated that as a remedy, a base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) amount "near $4,654 might satisfy" Article 6 constitutional requirements. Current BSAPP is $3,852. The Court is requiring at least an $802/pupil increase in state aid.

Using 2015-2016 Kansas K-12 state enrollment data as an estimate of the affected student population, the ruling means that the state will need to provide at least $394 million in additional school funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

Ruling's Highlights

From the 83 page ruling:

"Under the facts of this case, the state's public education financing system provided by the legislature for grades K-12, through its structure and implementation, is not reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the standards set out in Rose v. Council for Better Educ., Inc., 790 S.W.2d 186 (Ky.1989), and as presently codified in K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 72-1127.

Citing evidence provided to the Court regarding sub-standard school performance outcomes and evidence showing that those outcomes are related to the inadequacy of school finance, the Court has again instructed the Kansas Legislature to remedy the deficiency by the end of the current fiscal year June 30, 2017.

"Once a new financing system is enacted, the State will have to satisfactorily demonstrate to this court by June 30, 2017, that its proposed remedy is reasonably calculated to address the constitutional violations identified, as well as comports with previously identified constitutional mandates such as equity.

...For those purposes, the State will bear the burden of establishing such compliance and explaining its rationales for the choices made to achieve it...

If the Kansas Supreme Court finds the state to be out of compliance at that time it is possible that the Court could block state disbursements of funds to the school districts for fiscal year 2018 – which begins July 1, 2017 – until the funding issues are corrected, effectively delaying the start of the 2017-18 school year.

The Court in its discussion, explained in the earlier Gannon decision:

"...that Article 6,§ 6(b) contained minimum standards of adequacy which were met when the financing system provided by the legislature for grades K-12 – through structure and implementation – is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the standards set out in Rose.298 Kan. at 1172.

The Rose court held that:"[A]. . . system of education must have as its goal to provide each and every child with at least the seven following capacities:

(i) sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;

(ii) sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices;

(iii) sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation;

(iv) sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness;

(v) sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage;

(vi) sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and

(vii) sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market."

[Citation: Rose v. Council for Better Educ., Inc., 790 S.W.2d 186, 212 (Ky. 1989)].

"These standards are presently codified in K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 72-1127."

The Kansas Supreme Court ruling cites and affirms evidence from previous Supreme Court rulings on the adequacy issue that resulted in increases in state funding had made "a difference."

"...the infusion of additional money into the K-12 educational system after Montoy IV in 2006 "was making a difference."

The panel found this was evidenced by considerable progress in student achievements until it began to waver during the 2011-2012 school year once the residual effects of the Montoy extra funding wore off after cuts began in 2009.

The panel spent considerable effort reviewing several years' worth of KSDE student achievement statistics – for all students and for subgroups – through 2012–2013, which helped lead it to find that achievement actually declined as funding decreased..."

The Kansas Supreme Court ruling today indicated that as a remedy, it could accept a BSAPP (base state aid per pupil) amount "near $4,654" if the Legislature adjusts its financial aid formula to satisfy the Court's June 28, 2016 ruling on 'equitability'.

Otherwise, an amount of "at least a $4,980 BSAPP was required if LOB funds continued to be used, in part, to satisfy Article 6."

LOB refers to the Local Option Budget funding raised by school districts, primarily through property taxes, that is designed to pay for the physical facilities used in education such as schools, sporting facilities, etc.

In recent years, wealthier school districts like those in Johnson County have tried to use LOB funds to supplement the shortages in state base funding. The Court has found that practice to not be equitable to students residing in less affluent areas of the state and therefore unconstitutional.

The bottom line is that the Court is saying that the state must find a way to do its Constitutional duty to fund the base education costs of Kansas students equally across the state, in a sufficient amount to meet the seven educational requirements of the Rose case's 'minimum standards of adequacy' listed earlier.

June 30, 2017 will be here very soon. The Court's new funding directive further complicates the Legislature's other critical task of correcting the structural imbalance in the state budget since the 2012 tax bill slashed state revenues.

After the Governor's veto of a bi-partisan tax bill on February 22 which attempted to fix the revenue side of the budget caused by the 2012 tax cuts, and now with additional expenditures required, the state's revenue picture will likely require even more help than the earlier tax bill provided.

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