The long saga of Gannon vs. Kansas is nearing its end — maybe.

On Monday, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the new 2017 school funding law violated the adequacy and equity requirements. Despite the ruling, the court withheld any remedial action to give the Legislature time to bring school funding into compliance. The court gave the Legislature until June 30, 2018 to fix the formula, but also set up arguments for May 22, 2018 to preview whatever legislation may be enacted.

The court warned the Legislature, "we will not allow ourselves to be placed in the position of being complicit actors in the continuing deprivation of a constitutionally adequate and equitable education owed to hundreds of thousands of Kansas school children."

Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement on Monday afternoon.

"We are looking at the decision and will have further comment upon full review," he said.

 

The new funding formula would have given schools overall about $195 million more in this budget year and about $290 million more in the next fiscal year.

Several of the districts that sued originally — which includes Dodge City — challenged the constitutionality of the new law. The Kansas Constitution has been interpreted previously to require both adequate and equitable funding among districts.

The latest issue came from a Kansas Supreme Court on March 2, declaring that funding for public schools in the state was unconstitutionally low, and it gave the Legislature until June 30 to come up with a response.

The new funding formula was signed by Gov. Sam Brownback on June 15 and the Kansas Supreme Court allowed it to move forward pending its review of the law.

The new school finance law is basically modeled after one the 2015 legislature repealed and replaced with CLASS — the School District Finance and Quality Performance Act (SDFQPA) that had existed for approximately 23 years. The finance formula provides a fixed amount of funding per student called the base amount, and then utilizes certain weightings, such as the at-risk student weighting, to increase that base funding because some students require more resources and some districts have factors that increase costs.

However, the court ruled the increase is substantially less than all other cost estimates, including a calculation the Kansas Legislative Research Department submitted to the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance. The Kansas Legislative Research Department estimated that a base funding amount of $4,080 per student was required for fiscal year 2018 (school year 2017-2018). The new law instead provides $4,006 in base funding for that year. 

The Kansas Supreme Court, which limited its analysis to issues raised by the parties on appeal, held the state failed to meet its burden of showing that the level of funding was constitutionally adequate under the test requiring that the funding be reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the constitutional standards. The court also held that four provisions of the new law created or exacerbated unconstitutional wealth-based inequities. 

The Supreme Court struck down a provision that allows school districts to use capital outlay funds to pay for utility expenses and property and casualty insurance — expenditures which totaled approximately $162 million in fiscal year 2016 — because of the varying ability of districts to pay these expenses from their capital outlay funds. The court also held a provision that subjected only some school districts to a protest and election process in order to raise their local option budget limits was constitutionally inequitable.

The court further held that a new method for calculating supplemental state aid, which uses a school district's preceding school year's LOB percentage; and a new method for calculating at-risk funding, which only benefits two Kansas school districts, exacerbate wealth-based disparities in violation of Article 6, need to be addressed.

In 2010, a group of school districts, including Dodge City, sued the state, alleging that Kansas Legislature underfunded public schools, violating its duty to make "suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state."

 

To contact the writer email rbluhm@dodgeglobe.com.