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Kansas Supreme Court says lawmakers did not provide 'suitable' education funding

Lawmakers have been waiting for the Kansas Supreme Court to rule on an education funding lawsuit. The ruling is in, and the high court says legislators didn't follow through on their constitutional duty to suitably fund public education.

Lawmakers now have a July 1 deadline to come up with a funding solution, while the Shawnee County District Court three-judge panel hearing the original case will take a closer look again to see if the state's laws can set the stage for suitable and adequate funding.

The ruling appears to order another nearly $130 million in funding overall, with the vast share of that -- around $104 million -- in supplemental aid and the rest for capital outlay. Emporia Rep. Don Hill says lawmakers have several options. Compliance, pushing the judicial branch out of the process and reworking the funding formula are among the choices.

Emporia Rep. Peggy Mast says she doesn't think the ruling is that controversial to the legislature, and that the July 1 deadline may be enough time to find a solution.

Sen. Jeff Longbine says lawmakers may have additional work ahead beyond finding more money for education.

Emporia School District Communications Director Nancy Horst, a guest on KVOE's 12:10 pm newscast Friday, said this could be beneficial to the district if lawmakers comply. Because that step isn't guaranteed, Horst says the district is bracing for several outcomes.

South Lyon County Superintendent Mike Argabright says school officials need to show the education funding dollars in question are warranted.

According to the Supreme Court, no side involved in Gannon v. Kansas escapes unscathed. It says lawmakers failed in their duty to provide equity in public education under Article 6 of the state constitution. It says the tribunal, meanwhile, used the wrong standard for adequacy by using cost studies exclusively, but it also said individual plaintiffs did not have any legal standing  and could not pursue equal protection or due process claims, but they could move forward on constitutional concerns.

The Supreme Court also challenged Gov. Sam Brownback's assertion during the State of the State address that lawmakers have the authority to set education funding levels, saying it is the final authority on constitutional matters and setting a July 1 deadline for lawmakers to respond. Failure by lawmakers to respond will prompt the Supreme Court to stop transfers from the state's general fund into the school district capital outlay fund.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 lawmakers were shorting education funding and demanded an extra $440 million per year. Lawmakers began meeting the mandate but reversed course starting in 2008 when the Great Recession began, and they said the state's financial difficulties should have given them some latitude in spending.

Gannon v. Kansas, the current lawsuit, was filed by four school districts and 31 individuals after cuts to base state aid, capital outlay aid and supplemental aid starting in fiscal 2009. The state high court says lawmakers established what it calls "unconstitutional, wealth-based disparities" by reducing supplemental general state aid payments to which certain school districts were otherwise entitled. The court says those funding disparities were evident from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2012.

 

KVOE News Reporter AJ Dome contributed to this report.

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