Kansas justices key on school funding
TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday began weighing whether state legislators boosted spending on public schools enough this year to provide a suitable education to all children, as the court had ordered.
Justices heard arguments from attorneys about the new school finance measure signed into law in June but appeared skeptical that the funding plan offers enough money to provide a suitable education for children statewide. The court is expected to rule quickly; attorneys for the districts want the justices to declare that the new law isn’t adequate and order lawmakers to fix it by Sept. 1 — only a few weeks after the start of the new school year.
That law phases in a $293 million increase in education funding over two years. The justices ruled in March that the state’s then-$4 billion a year in aid to its 286 school districts was inadequate.
School districts suing for more funding say the state needs to add nearly $900 million over two years. But an attorney for the state countered that the new law vastly improved the previous way schools were funded.
In defending the law, attorneys for the state have noted that it fully funds all-day kindergarten programs and increases spending for programs for at-risk students. It also promises future increases in spending to keep up with inflation.
The state Board of Education proposed phasing in an $893 million increase over two years, but Alan Rupe, an attorney for a group of school districts suing over the funding, told the court Tuesday that the “problem is the Legislature doesn’t listen to them.”
“The magnitude of the solution needs to meet the magnitude of the problem,” Rupe added.
Solicitor General Stephen McAllister, arguing for the state, insisted that “there’s a lot of new money going into the system.”
Justice Dan Biles noted that the Legislature pledged additional funding nearly a decade ago but fell short, adding that the suggested formula adds only funding that already had been promised after a 2005 ruling by the court.
“This just looks like deja vu all over again,” Biles said.
The income-tax increase enacted by lawmakers over Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto is expected to raise $1.2 billion over two years, but much of the new funds will go to prevent budget shortfalls through June 2019.
The court has ruled previously that the state constitution requires legislators to finance a suitable education for every child. In past hearings, justices have aggressively questioned attorneys on both sides but have not been shy about challenging the state’s arguments.
Lawyers for the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kan., school districts have argued that lawmakers fell at least $600 million short of adequately funding schools over two years. They also question whether the state can sustain the spending promised by the new law, even with an income-tax increase enacted this year.