The Kansas Supreme Court will hear arguments again next week in the long-pending school funding case of Gannon v. State of Kansas (see Kansas litigation page). In order to meet a court order issued earlier this year that required the state to “enact a new constitutionally-acceptable education funding system by June 30, 2017,” the legislature adopted a bill last month that will increase K-12 funding by $195 million for the coming school year and by $292 million the year after. In doing so, the legislature overrode Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto and passed a $1.2 billion tax increase to pay for the rise in school funding as well as other projected budget shortfalls. The new law puts back in place a per-pupil funding formula that is similar to the one lawmakers repealed in 2015 and replaced for two years with a system of block grants that the Court had held to be unconstitutional.
Last week, the plaintiffs filed a brief that claimed that an increase of $893 million ($567 million this year and $893 million in 2018-2019), as recommended by the State Board of Education, is required to close the achievement gap. The State’s brief countered that the state board’s figure was “aspirational” and that funding needed to be increased only for “at-risk” students and not across the board. Plaintiffs claim that the amounts in the new formula are insufficient to meet the actual needs of at-risk students.
The dispute between the parties centers on the fact that although the state’s calculations accepted the higher weighting for at risk students that had been recommended in past cost studies, they did not utilize the base figure recommended in those studies; instead they used a lower base figure that emerged from a new “successful schools” study that had recently been undertaken. The Court’s March, 2017 ruling held that the existing system was unconstitutional because it was “not reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the minimum constitutional standards of adequacy.”
The Court is expected to issue a ruling on this matter in August, before the start of the new school year.