Kansas High Court Rules Legislature Underfunded Poor School Districts

   < < Go Back
from Wall Street Journal,

Court Also Ruled Lower Court’s Education Funding Formula Was Insufficient.

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday partially backed a lower-court ruling that state funding cuts were shortchanging students in poor school districts, and ordered lawmakers to come up with at least $129 million by July 1 to fix the problem.

The lower court had ordered the Kansas Legislature to provide about $450 million, but the high court found the three-judge panel used the wrong formula to come up with that figure.

Alan Rupe, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, said the Supreme Court ruling was a success overall. “The court is in essence saying that you have to start putting gas in the engine,” he said.

“We have an opportunity for progress,” said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in a statement. “My commitment is to work with legislative leadership to address the allocation issue identified by the court. We will fix this.”

The dispute pitted four public-school districts and 31 individuals against the Kansas Legislature over a drop in state funding in recent years. At the heart of the issue is Article 6 of the state Constitution, which mandates the state to provide adequate and equitable education.

“The court is telling the legislature that when making these decisions on school funding, [the legislators] need to be free from the political fray,” said John Munich, a St. Louis-based attorney who specializes in school-funding cases.

The court’s demand for the legislature to increase spending may cause problems for the state, which imposed deep tax cuts as part of a plan by Mr. Brownback to eventually eliminate the state income tax. In 2012, lawmakers agreed to cut the top individual rate by 24% and eliminated taxes on non-wage income for small businesses. Last year, they passed additional cuts to be phased in over the next four years.

The current allotment per student, about $3,800, is down from about $4,000 in fiscal year 2010. Lawmakers responded in the past that spending per student is closer to $7,000 when costs such as special education and teacher retirement are included.

If lawmakers fail to figure out a solution, action to ensure the inequities are cured must be taken at the judicial level, the high court said.

More From Wall Street Journal: