Kansas School Funding Deemed Unconstitutional

     (CN) - Kansas violated its constitution by underfunding the public education system, the state supreme court ruled.
     While the ruling is a win for the school districts and students who challenged the state's funding system in 2010, it stops short of telling Kansas how much it must spend on its public schools.
     The Kansas Legislature revised its school funding formula in 2005, but the Kansas Supreme Court ruled later that year that the formula fell short of compliance with its ruling that year in Montoy v. State II.
     Another legislative adjustment was adequate, according to the court in Montoy v. State IV, but the Legislature began to reduce educational funding in 2009.
     This led to the current lawsuit, filed in 2010 by four school districts and 31 individuals. It resulted in a 16-day trial and a 250-page opinion by a panel of district-court judges.
     Those judges held that Kansas violated its constitution by underfunding K-12 public education between 2009 and 2012, and by withholding or reducing certain funding to which school districts were legally entitled.
     In a 110-page opinion of its own, the Kansas Supreme Court largely agreed with the panel, but rejected the plaintiffs' cross-appeal to increase the base state aid per pupil of $4,492, and to order Kansas to pay certain underfunded districts. The high court also denied their bid for attorneys' fees.
     However, the justices rejected the state's claim that school funding is a political issue best left to the governor or Legislature to decide.
     "Just as only the people of Kansas have the authority to change the standards in their constitution," the high court wrote, "the Supreme Court of Kansas has the final authority to determine adherence to the standards of the people's constitution."
     The state argued that education was already being funded at record levels and that it was not a fundamental right in the state constitution.
     "The district court did not apply the correct test to determine whether the state met its duty to provide adequacy in K-12 public education as required under Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution," the justices wrote.
     They remanded the case for the district court to make "an adequacy determination, complete with findings, after applying the correct test to the facts."
     The Kansas Supreme Court also found that the state "established unconstitutional, wealth-based disparities" by withholding and reducing some payments to school districts.
     It advised the trial court that the Legislature could provide the plaintiffs with a remedy by funding a capital outlay provision for schools by July 2014.
     "Any cure will be measured by determining whether it sufficiently reduces the unreasonable, wealth-based disparity so the disparity then becomes constitutionally acceptable, not whether the cure necessarily restores funding to the proper levels," the justices wrote.