Kansas Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Kansas Kids

May 27, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: David A. Smith, chief of communications and governmental affairs, (913) 744-5104

The Kansas Supreme Court has once again ruled in favor of Kansas school children. In a ruling published today in the Gannon vs. State of Kansas school funding case, the court found that Senate Substitute for HB 2655, passed in March by the Kansas Legislature, is unconstitutional. HB 2655 was passed by the legislature in response to a Supreme Court ruling in February that SB 7, more commonly known as the block grant bill, creates inequity between school districts, and is unconstitutional. The court ruled today that the legislature’s action in passing HB 2655 did not solve the inequities created by SB 7, and thus SB 7 remains unconstitutional.

Here are some of the key points in the decision:

  • The Supreme Court ruled in February that SB 7 does not cure the inequities found in the Gannon decision.

  • Senate Substitute for SB 2655 does not remedy the inequities found in SB 7

  • The Court has once again given the legislature until June 30, 2016, to correct these inequities.

  • If the legislature does not cure the inequities in SB 7, then the entire school funding system is unconstitutional, and schools will not be able to open in August.

“The Supreme Court has once again affirmed that the Kansas Constitution requires equity in school funding across the state,” said Dr. Cynthia Lane, superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS). “The court has laid out a clear path to equity, and I hope the Legislature will fulfill its constitutional obligation, and act to keep schools open.”

KCKPS was part of a group of school districts which went to court after the Kansas Legislature, in March of 2015, passed a block grant bill which cut an additional $50 million in funding for schools across Kansas, and froze funding levels for schools for the next two budget years. These reductions were on top of the cuts that school districts across the state have seen for the past seven years. The Shawnee District Court ruled SB 7 unconstitutional in June, 2015, and the state appealed to the Supreme Court. In February, the court upheld the District court finding that SB 7 was inequitable, and ordered the Legislature to cure the inequity by June 30, 2016.

District officials are still evaluating the impact of the decision, and will need to wait to see how the legislature will implement the court’s order. Nevertheless, the decision is good news for the 22,000 children in KCKPS, and the more than 450,000 students across the state.

History of School Finance Litigation

KCKPS was a lead plaintiff in the original lawsuit filed in 2010 in Shawnee County District Court, which argued that the legislature was providing constitutionally inadequate levels of funding for schools in Kansas. A three-judge trial court ruled in January 2013 for the plaintiffs, finding that the cuts reduced per-pupil expenditures far below a level “suitable” to educate all children under Kansas’ standards.

To remedy the funding shortfall, the judges ordered that per-pupil expenditures be increased to $4,492 from $3,838, the level previously established as suitable.Rather than comply, the state appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled funding levels unconstitutional. In 2015, the legislature passed and the Governor signed a block grant bill, which froze funding levels for two years, and eliminated equalization for capitol outlay. It was this change that was appealed up to the Supreme Court, which divided the case into two parts, equity and adequacy. The court heard arguments on the equity portion in November, and issued its ruling today. Oral arguments in the adequacy portion of the case are not scheduled until this Spring.

This is not the first time the state has been involved in litigation for providing inadequate funding to schools. In 1999, school districts filed suit in the District Court of Shawnee County, Kansas, alleging the financing system established by the state Legislature did not meet the Kansas Constitution's requirement to “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” The court ruled in favor of the schools in that case, which also went to the Supreme Court. In 2005, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

The complete Gannon decision can be viewed online at http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/Opinions/SupCt/2016/20160527/113267.pdf.

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Melissa Fears • Communications Office
2010 N. 59th Street • Kansas City, KS 66104 • 913-279-2242