Kansas Justices OK School Funding Plan, But Keep Case Open

TOPEKA, Kan. (CN) – The Kansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled Friday that the state has met its obligation to adequately fund public schools, but will retain jurisdiction over the 9-year-old case to ensure state lawmakers carry out scheduled funding in the future.

Gannon v. Kansas, filed in 2010 by four school districts, challenged the state’s distribution of money to public schools. The districts argued that the state failed its responsibility under the Kansas Constitution to properly fund poorer counties, causing rural students to suffer from educational inequality.

The case has led to bitter fights between state lawmakers and school districts over the course of 9 years, with the looming threat of school closures by the court.

According to the state’s constitution, the Legislature must make school funding both equitable and adequate.

In its ruling last year, the Supreme Court determined that lawmakers made progress in its five-year plan with regards to equitable funding, but still left open doubts of adequacy as the court noted the Legislature’s failure to adjust for inflation. The court gave legislators a year to correct the problem rather than shut down schools.

In Friday’s 25-page ruling, the justices found this year’s spending increase of about $90 million a year is enough to meet constitutional obligations. The increase was supported by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who managed to push it through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Gov. Kelly said Friday that the decision was a victory for the state and for children.

“Educating our kids is not just one of the best ways to address challenges facing our state, it’s also our moral and constitutional obligation,” Kelly said in a tweet.

The state has increased its public school funding to more than $4 billion due to court rulings in the case. Those increases that have received pushback from Republicans in Topeka who said they felt the court overstepped its bounds in deciding funding.

In both 2014 and 2016, Republicans unsuccessfully tried to oust six of the seven justices in retention elections. There have also been talks about introducing an amendment to the Kansas Constitution which would allow lawmakers to bypass constitutional requirements, but such plans have always fizzled out.

While the Supreme Court ruled that funding has reached an acceptable level, the justices did not dismiss the lawsuit. The ruling made note of the plaintiffs’ argument that included this year’s “legislative attempt to reclaim educational funds this session.” Instead of dismissal, the court will keep the case open to make sure legislators follow through on the spending plan.

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