Public education in limbo
In February, the Kansas Supreme Court issued its ruling in the ongoing school finance case of Gannon v. State of Kansas (Link to February Opinion). The Court ruled that funding for K-12 public education in Kansas violated the equity requirement of the school finance provisions of the Kansas Constitution. The Kansas Constitution requires the legislature to provide funding to school districts in an equitable manner ("reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort") so that not one school district is better funded than another.
In 2015, Republican leadership, at the behest of Governor Brownback, eliminated the old school funding formula and replaced it with a block grant system that resulted in reduced funding for many schools. Plaintiffs in the Gannon litigation petitioned the District Court to review the block grant system for failure to allocate and distribute funding in an equitable manner, and the District Court's three-judge panel agreed to review Governor Brownback's block grant system.
In its February 2016 ruling, the Court instructed the legislature to create a constitutional funding formula by June 30, 2016 - or the Supreme Court would be left with no other remedy but to withhold distribution of funding and, therefore, close schools. In response to the decision, Republican leadership passed HB 2655, which did not allocate any new money for schools and merely took money that was already given to other schools, shuffling the funds to school districts receiving inequitable funding from the state.
On May 10, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Republican attempt to restack the the equity components in HB 2655. The Court is expected to rule soon to decide whether HB 2655 passes constitutional muster.
This is the Court's second opinion and order on the equity portion of school finance. Another opinion from the Court is remaining regarding the issue of adequacy of funding for public education (e.g., whether education funding is constitutionally adequate). The Kansas Constitution requires the legislature to "adequately" fund K-12 public education. The issue of adequacy should be settled by the Court later in 2016 or in early 2017.
Funding for K-12 public education has been cut repeatedly by the Brownback administration. The impacts of the diminished funding are becoming very noticeable. Schools are closing, teachers are fleeing Kansas for friendlier states, and school districts are being forced to make impossible choices on program cuts.
I have been - and will remain - a strong supporter of K-12 public education and higher education in Kansas. Investments in education have a determinable return on investment for the Wyandotte County and Kansas economies. I will continue to support legislation that is supportive of K-12 public education.
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