In a lengthy opinion issued last week, the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously held that the state’s latest effort to cure constitutional violations in its education funding system was not sufficient to fully satisfy constitutional requirements. Gannon v. State of Kansas.
In February 2016, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld those aspects of a lower court decision that had determined that the Kansas education finance system created funding disparities that violated equity requirements of the state constitution. It stayed further consideration of the adequacy aspects of the lower court’s ruling. The Court also held that if the Kansas legislature does not cure its current constitutional violations and provide equitable levels of funding to the plaintiff school districts by June 30, 2016, the entire public education system will be shut down for the next school year. (See the Kansas litigation history.)
In its current session, the legislature responded to the Court’s order by a complex mechanism that shifted some of the methods for distributing state aid, but without raising the total amount of state aid being provided. The major change was to modify the current funding system by applying to the distribution of supplemental state aid to districts with limited ability to raise operating funds through optional local tax levy the same formula that it uses to supplement capital expenses. The Court held that although the capital outlay formula satisfies the equity provisions of Article 6 of the state constitution when applied to capital outlay and when fully funded, as applied to the local option budget (LOB) supplemental general state aid, this mechanism not only fails to cure, but actually worsens the inequities described in the Court’s previous decision. “In short,” the Court now held, “disparities among the districts remain inequitable and unconstitutional.”
The Court reiterated its intent to enforce its order by shutting down the entire public school system throughout the state for the next school year if the state does not enact acceptable new legislation by the end of this month:
“We acknowledge the legislature’s intent, as recently expressed in its preamble to H.B. 2655: “The legislature is committed to avoiding any disruption to public education and desires to meet its obligation.” So, we continue to stay the issuance of our mandate— and the stay of the panel’s broad remedial orders—until June 30, 2016. This will give the legislature yet another opportunity to treat Kansas students fairly and “to craft a constitutionally suitable solution and minimize the threat of disruptions in funding for education.”