Oral arguments heard in school finance case

Oral arguments were presented today in the Gannon school finance case in the Kansas Supreme Court.

The Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools are one of the plaintiffs in the case, along with the Wichita Public Schools, Hutchinson Public Schools and Dodge City Public Schools. The defendant, the state of Kansas, is represented by Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

The case addressed whether the school funding is equitable and adequate. The court currently is considering whether the level of school funding is adequate. Earlier, it ruled that funding was not equitable and mandated changes. The Kansas Legislature then addressed that part of the school finance question.

Today’s arguments were the culmination of more than six years of litigation, in which the school districts challenged the level of funding for public education from the state, according to Alan Rupe, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs are arguing that the state “has breached its constitutional duty by underfunding public education,” Rupe stated.

The state adopted a law in 2006 that mandated levels of public education funding, and in 2009, the state stopped fully funding that formal, according to Rupe. The state began cutting education funding by about $511 million a year.

A three-judge panel decided in 2013 that the school budget cuts violated the Kansas Constitution, and the state appealed the ruling. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the panel to perform legal tests to determine whether the Kansas system for financing public education was reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the Rose standards for public education, according to Rupe.

The Legislature implemented a block grant funding plan that froze school finance levels at the previous year’s level and reduced it, according to Rupe. The current block grant funding from the Legislature does not meet the Rose standards that call for funding of certain capabilities, according to the plaintiffs. These standards derived from a Kentucky case and are part of Kansas law.

According to Rupe, the Gannon case began in 2010 when the school districts brought suit in Shawnee County District Court.

The plaintiff’s attorneys are arguing there is overwhelming evidence of the failure of the Rose standards being met, including low assessment test scores. The plaintiffs are arguing the reductions in funding have caused the poor school performance.

“It is clear that increased funding will be required,” Rupe stated. “The estimates available at this time indicate that the Legislature will need to massively increase spending on Kansas education in order to comply with the Kansas Constitution.”

The cost of constitutional compliance could be between $430 million and $1.4 billion, according to Rupe.

He stated they are hoping to receive a ruling on the Gannon case by the spring of 2017.

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