Nearly half of the state’s African American students are not proficient in reading and math, “subjects at the heart of an adequate education,” the court wrote in its decision. Additionally, more than a third of the state’s Hispanic students are not proficient in these core subjects, according to the judges. And the ruling noted that “more than one-third of our state’s students who receive free and reduced lunches are not proficient in reading and math.”
The Kansas justices didn’t set a dollar amount on what public schools are owed, and state lawmakers said it will take time to review the options and respond to the ruling.
* * *
The plaintiffs in the case contend that annual state funding for public schools must increase by at least $900 million. Currently, the state provides about $4.1 billion each year. That represents about half of what Kansas allocates each year from tax revenues across the state government. In what might be the most Kansan quote in recent history, Alan Rupe, an attorney for one of the districts suing over the funding formula, told the Associated Press: “We’ll be like the proverbial chicken on a June bug if the state tries to do it on the cheap.”
It’s worth noting that these cases can take many years to work their way through the courts. (A student who was a first grader when the Kansas suit was filed in 2010 would now be in their last semester of eighth grade.) Even with the Supreme Court’s ruling in hand, no one is expecting quick compliance. Back in 2011, Republican Governor Sam Brownback slashed income taxes as a means of boosting the state’s economy—a plan that hasn’t panned out, experts say. State lawmakers, facing a $900 budget hole, are already working on a plan to increase some taxes, which could yield new revenue.
Kansas is far from the only state grappling with its school-funding formulas and equity issues. Similar lawsuits have been launched in Connecticut and Texas, among other states. Remarkably, in August 2015, the Washington Supreme Court began fining the state $100,000 per day for failing to adequately fund public education: The unpaid tab now tops $57 million. With a highly effective set of infographics, The Seattle Times looked at what that money would also buy. Among the possible purchases: 1,257 annual teacher salaries; 6,847 preschool slots; or 338 “Governor Jay Inslees,” based on his annual salary of $168,800.
In a January report, the Education Law Center—a New Jersey-based legal and advocacy organization focused on promoting educational equity—found 14 states had so-called “regressive” funding formulas, defined as providing less to schools with higher concentrations of students from low-income families. Only four states earned ratings for “fair” school funding systems: Delaware, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.