On June 25, 2018, Kansas’ Supreme Court still deemed the money that the state’s legislature provides to schools as inadequate. The court gave the legislature another year to find a solution to the underfunding. Unlike in 2017, however, the state’s Supreme Court did not threaten to close down the state’s public schools until the state devises devises a new way to adequately fund the state’s public schools.
This ruling is the sixth decision to follow the 8-year-old supreme court case, Gannon vs. Kansas, which put the state’s legislature against its court system in terms of who should determine how state money is spent. In 2017, the Legislature raised its income taxes to provide an increase of $548 million over the next five years. However, according to the legislature’s own study, it would take between $1.7 billion and $2 billion over the next five years to provide an adequate education to students in the state of Kansas. John Robb, an attorney for the school districts, said the court ultimately found the new funding plan unconstitutional because it did not account for inflation year after year.
The Supreme Court in Kansas has previously ruled that the Legislature must meet two tests to satisfy a state constitutional mandate to provide “suitable” education funding:
- It must be adequate, meaning that there’s enough total money in the system for schools to provide a quality education.
- It must be equitable, meaning that state resources are allocated to give poor children the opportunity to obtain an education of roughly similar quality to what’s provided in wealthy districts.
The court ruled on Monday that the Legislature has met its responsibility to equitably distribute funding (#2) but had not yet met its responsibility to fulfilling adequate funding overall.
Discussion of a constitutional amendment is still at play. However, earlier this year, legislators decided not to pursue a constitutional amendment that would dictate that the state’s supreme court did not have say over school spending amounts. Changing the constitution would require three-fourths approval by both the House and Senate as well as approval by voters. In light of Monday’s ruling, Attorney General Derek Schmidt noted that, “Kansans should be given the chance to vote on a constitutional amendment to indicate whether this litigation-driven funding system is really how they want school-funding decisions to be made.”
Justices will revisit the case again on April 15, 2019, when both sides will have to file reports on whether they believe the Legislature has corrected the remaining constitutional issues.