Judges rule school funding inadequate; appeal likely to follow



December 31, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Though it comes as no surprise, the ruling Tuesday that Kansas schools are inadequately funded will have many state lawmakers acting with outrage and alarm.
The lawsuit, Gannon v. State of Kansas, in fact has been in the works since 2010, when the parents of more than 140,000 students and 52 school districts, including Iola’s and Humboldt’s, objected to the state cutting school funding by $511 million per year rather than adhering to a funding formula established in 1992.
Earlier this year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled school funding was out of whack. Legislators agreed — though we use the term generously — and eased the property tax burden for poorer school districts by $129 million.
The high court then redirected a three-judge panel from the Shawnee County District Court to decide whether the funding formula remains a good one and if so, whether it is being funded to provide each and every Kansas student an adequate education.
In Tuesday’s decision the judges also revisited the issue of fairness. In no uncertain terms, the judges said, having school districts take increasing responsibility for their school budgets puts an unfair burden on the poorer districts and violates the state constitution.
Increasing “local control and local funding choices” does not guarantee adequate nor equitable funding for all Kansas children, they said.
The judges did not specify what they considered to be adequate funding for state schools, but said “evidence suggests” it be $4,654 per student — slightly above the rate set in 2008. Today, base aid per student is $3,852, $802 below what is recommended.
The judges recognize the difficult situation this puts legislators and their “self-imposed fiscal dilemma,” caused by their massive tax cuts provided for many businesses and individuals.
Had legislators respected their obligation to uphold the constitution, perhaps they would have not cut taxes so drastically in the first place.
Instead of following through with the panel’s recommendations, it’s a sure bet Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt will appeal the decision to the Kansas Supreme Court, postponing any definitive action for at least another year.
Meanwhile, education in Kansas will be left to founder.
— Susan Lynn

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