The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state “failed to meet its duty to provide equity in public education” required by the state constitution because of funding disparities among schools that hurt poorer districts. The court sent the larger question of whether the state has provided adequate funding to all public schools back to a lower court.
In the closely-watched Gannon v. Kansas case, parents and school districts alleged that school spending cuts violated the state constitution’s promise of “suitable” funding for public education.
The state’s top court ordered the state legislature to pump an additional $129 million into the poorest school districts by July 1 to remedy the inequitable funding.
On the question of whether the state is putting an adequate amount of money into public schools in general, the Supreme Court ruled that the district court, which ordered the legislature to increase school funding by more than $400 million, had failed to use the proper standard to consider the question. The Supreme Court ordered the lower court to reconsider the question after factoring in the additional funding for equity.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback called the ruling “a complex decision that requires thoughtful review.”
“I will work with leadership in the Kansas Senate and House to determine a path forward that honors our tradition of providing a quality education to every child and that keeps our schools open, our teachers teaching and our students learning," Brownback said.
John Robb, the plaintiffs’ co-counsel, called Friday’s ruling a “great decision.” He said he was confident that the trial court would again rule in favor of the plaintiffs, and perhaps even increase the amount of funding the state would be ordered to add to the school system.
Robb said he was also optimistic that the state legislature, some of whose members have vowed to strip the judiciary of the authority to rule on challenges to the state’s education funding, would eventually comply.
“They may bluster about this for a bit, but I think in the end I think they will do what they’ve taken an oath to do and support the constitution,” Robb said.
Kansas is one of about a dozen states currently facing litigation over education funding.