TOPEKA — The Kansas Supreme Court Ruled Friday that the new funding formula for Kansas public schools did not increase spending enough.
The court once again ruled the school funding formula unconstitutional, and set a deadline of June 30, 2018 for legislators to put an adequate system in place. The court did not indicate a dollar amount that needs to be reached, but indicated the funding was still inadequate.
Kansas State Representatives Monica Murnan (D-Pittsburg) and Adam Lusker (D-Frontenac) voted for the new formula during the 2017 legislative session, but both said they are not surprised by the court’s decision.
Murnan said it was clear, through evidence provided in the case, that the per-pupil funding amount did not meet the standards set.
“I am pleased that we have guidance from the court now,” Murnan said. “We need to get back to work and fix the problem.”
Lusker was also not surprised, stating last year’s formula was a step in the right direction, but not enough.
“Funding was short last year because of tax problems, which we corrected in our tax plan,” he said. “I think we can continue those good strides this year and hopefully build a coalition of common-sensed people to fix this formula.”
Lawmakers increased income taxes this year to raise $1.2 billion over two years, but much of the new revenue went to close projected budget shortfalls.
Senator Richard Hilderbrand (R-Baxter Springs) said he was disappointed by the court’s decision. He said the court is holding the legislature to a standard from the constitution of the state of Kentucky, which should not apply to Kansas.
“If we decide the supreme court has that right, where are we going to get the money from?” Hilderbrand said. “We will have to raise taxes again or maybe cut funding to other services.”
However, Murnan said cutting other services is not an option, and not part of the problem.
“There is no more budget to cut; this is a revenue issue,” Murnan said. “I have heard loud and clear from my constituents that they are willing to pay for quality education, good roads, community services and access to healthcare.”
The formula that was struck down by the Kansas Supreme Court benefited most Crawford County schools with an increase in funding. The Southeast School District saw a large decrease in funding — created by lower enrollment during a period of block grant funding from the state — but the plan included a special needs fund, which helped bridge the gap.
USD 250 Superintendent Destry Brown said the court’s decision isn’t about making the schools happy, it’s about the constitution.
“As we can see, there is more work to be done and the Supreme Court agrees with that assessment,” Brown said. “Now the question is, can they [the legislature] work together to get something done to both adequately and fairly fund education for the children of our state.”
The court ruled that phasing in a $293 million increase in funding over two years was enough to provide a suitable education for each of the state’s 458,000 students. Four school districts that sued the state over education funding in 2010 had argued that the increase was at least $600 million short of what was necessary over two years.
Kansas has been in and out of school funding lawsuits for several decades. The state constitution requires legislators to “make suitable provision for finance” of the state’s “educational interests,” and the Supreme Court has ruled it’s a requirement to ensure that all children receive a suitable education, regardless of whether they live in rich or poor areas.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.