On Friday, a panel of three Shawnee County District Court judges ruled that state funding for elementary and secondary education must be increased.
According to an article from the Associated Press, parents and school districts have argued that the state's funding was unconstitutional, saying that the state has failed to live up to its promises to increase school funding as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2006. On the other side, lawmakers argue that cuts to per-pupal spending were unavoidable because of the recession.
Currently, per student aid is $3,783, which was set by legislators in May 2012. But, starting July 1, aid will increase to $4,492, the amount required by law.
Almost immediately after the ruling legislators reacted.
Gov. Sam Brownback issued the following statement Friday evening; “The ruling by the district court is disappointing but not unexpected given the Kansas Supreme Court’s previous ruling in the Montoy case in 2005. Through today’s ruling, the courts are drastically increasing the property tax burden on every Kansan. The Kansas Legislature, not the courts, has the power of the purse and has, in fact, increased total state funding for schools every year during my administration. The legislative process is the appropriate venue for debating and resolving issues of taxation and spending.”
Currently the state has allocated $3 billion to spend on education. With the new aid requirements, an additional $440 million would be needed. That extra revenue would come from increased taxes for Kansans, something that angers several members of the state Senate.
"I am deeply disappointed in the Court's decision to raise taxes on Kansas families by over $500 million," Senate vice president Jeff King (R- Independence) said in a statement Friday. "The Court ignored the hard times facing Kansans. It did not care that Kansans have been struggling to make ends meet. It refused to even consider how a court-imposed tax increase would harm Kansas families.
“The court did not care about the considerable investment made by Kansas taxpayers in public education. The Court completely ignored that Education Weekly ranked Kansas in the top 20 states for school funding just this week.
“The Kansas Constitution gives elected legislators and the elected Governor the exclusive power to spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars. This ruling shows that the unelected court has, yet again, disregarded the separation of powers between the three branches of government.”
Helping the schools
Dodge City Superintendent Alan Cunningham is pleased with the decision, but knows there's still a long road ahead before USD 443 gets the extra funding.
"I think both kids and teachers across Kansas will benefit from this decision," Cunningham said in an interview on Monday. "The quality of education will improve for all Kansans."
Cunningham said that he was disappointed that legislators started blaming the judges before they took the time to read the entire ruling.
Page 2 of 2 - "Responses from legislators started pouring out on Friday right after the decision was made," Cunningham said, "There's no way they had time to read the whole 245-page document before making those comments."
Soon after the ruling Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced his office would appeal the decision, saying "Today's ruling has enormous consequences for the state of Kansas."
Cunningham understands an appeal means that USD 443 won't get the extra funding as soon as he had hoped, but he's also hopeful that the Kansas Supreme Court will rule in favor of Kansas schools and educators, as they have done before.
While he understands that it could take awhile before he gets the funding, and hasn't spent the money yet, Cunningham does have plans for what he will do with it eventually.
He says that because Dodge City is a quickly growing community, the district has outgrown several of its classrooms. He would like to increase the number of teachers at USD 443, increase the number of classrooms and reduce class sizes.
"Some of our kindergarten classes have about 25 students in them," Cunningham said, "the state average is only 17 or 18, and I'd like to get us back down to that size."
He'd also like to be able to offer competitive salaries for teachers to try and get the best and brightest educators to come out here to Southwest Kansas and teach our students.
"We have some very bright kids that attend our schools," Cunningham said, "but because many of them are learning English as a second language, or because their families move around a lot, it takes them a little longer to learn. They can learn, and are very smart, they just need a little extra time and resources. That's what I want this money to go towards."
Cunningham also noted that requiring the state to pay $4,492 per student, really isn't an increase, it's the requirement that was set years ago by the original court ruling in the Montoy case, but has been cut several times over the past few years.
"We need to go back to that amount," Cunningham said.
In addition to giving funding, the state also mandates education goals, but has no idea how much it costs to reach those goals, according to Cunningham. Going back to that funding would make it possible for all Kansas schools to reach those goals.
"The quality of your education shouldn't depend on the wealth of your community," Cunningham said.
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