The state legislature has until June 30 to resolve what the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled is an unequal and unconstitutional distribution of state funds in order to avoid shuttering the state’s public schools come August.
After a years-long battle with lawmakers, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled on February 11 that the state’s new block grant funding system, enacted to satisfy a 2014 court ruling and challenged by four districts, does not “equitably, i.e., fairly, allocate resources among the school districts” and must be replaced. Failure to enact new legislation by the deadline will result in “no constitutionally valid school finance system” being in place, without which “the schools in Kansas will be unable to operate beyond June 30,” the end of fiscal year 2016.
Following the ruling, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback decried the “activist Kansas Supreme court” and promised to “work with the Legislature to ensure the continued success of our great Kansas schools.” While some lawmakers found the court’s timing “a little curious” and dismissed the decision as “a temper tantrum by the Supreme Court” others “predicted that it will take significant work and time for lawmakers to address the court’s order because of the state’s tenuous financial condition.”
In the five weeks since the court’s decision, districts have struggled with uncertainty surrounding budgets and the possibility of the loss of autonomy over them for the 2016-2017 school year. In addition to impacting the next academic year, the June 30 deadline would also affect summer school courses and programs across the state. After teachers expressed concerns over what this summer might bring, a chapter of theKansas National Education Association tried to quell fears and dispel rumors while, at the state level, the KNEA encouraged legislators to find “a balanced approach to taxation that is equitable across income levels and across the state.”
On March 17, a state House committee failed to advance a proposal that would add funding to schools, but the Senate Ways and Means Committee advanced a bill that would redistribute funding. While the committee chairman hopes the “bill will clear the Legislature by the end of next week,” the House Speaker has expressed concerns over moving that quickly, saying “the work needs to be done correctly.”
Taking a different tack, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill on March 10 to impeach state supreme court justices who “[attempt] to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government.” If the bill passes, it is widely believed that Kansans will be asked to remove four of the seven sitting judges from office in November, clearing the way for school funding and other legislatively-unpopular decisions to be overturned.