The Kansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously Friday that the state needs to spend more money on public schools. But it stopped short of giving an exact dollar amount and sent that back to a lower court with instructions. The decision comes almost four years after the first lawsuit was filed.
Inequities in the classroom
The court found poorer districts were hurt when the legislature cut funding, creating inequities. The Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools cut 400 positions, including 130 teachers, when education budget cuts took effect.
The Kansas Supreme Court set a July 1 deadline to restore money for two programs aimed at less well-off districts. Superintendent Cynthia Lane said on that KCUR program Up to Date that she’s celebrating the ruling.
“I think the ruling says that educating all children, no matter where you live, no matter what resources you have access to, is important and should be a priority of our state government,” says Lane.
State department of education officials estimate it would cost $129 million to restore funding to those two programs.
Adequate funding still a question
While the Supreme Court ruled on that matter, a second part of the ruling, on the adequacy of funding, is still in limbo. Scott Robb is one of the attorneys for the schools in the lawsuit. He says it should be simple.
“Adequate in Kansas means fund what it costs,” says Robb. “What does it cost? The legislature’s own studies have shown what it costs.”
But the Kansas Supreme court didn’t quite agree. A previous ruling from the Shawnee County District Court found the state needed to add $440 million to its education budget based on cost. The Supreme Court ruled cost is a factor but not the only one in determining adequacy, and they sent the measure back to the lower court.
University of Kansas Political Science professor Burdett Loomis says it’s a complex case.
“The standards that they use need to be reinterpreted,” says Loomis. “You can’t work on those cost standards again, so I think there are a lot of things up in the air.”
Threats from the legislature still loom
That includes whether the legislature will go along with it. Republican legislative leaders have threatened to ignore court rulings ordering more money. They say it’s the legislature’s responsibility, not the court’s, to set funding levels.
The court rejected that claim, but Republican Rep. Scott Schwab of Olathe says that could be a problem.
“They are just trying to hang on to their authority, which doesn’t exactly make the legislature want to work with them more,” says Schwab.
Kansas now spends about $3 billion year on education. Handing over more money to schools could be tougher now than before.
Since his election in 2011, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has led a massive round of income tax cuts, resulting in less available funds for education.