Kansas High Court Says the State's Public School Funding Is Unconstitutional

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Kansas's public school funding is unconstitutionally disparate between districts, according to a Friday ruling from the state Supreme Court that will require the state to increase public school funding. Although the court didn't tell the state exactly how much more it had to spend to meet the basic education needs of every student in the state, a Department of Education official estimated to the AP that Kansas needs to add at least $129 million in funding to poorer districts to its statewide $3 billion school budget for next year. If the state legislature doesn't fix the gap by July 1st, a lower court will intervene. 

The ruling pertains to cuts in school funding from 2010 to 2012. According to the unanimous decision, those cuts widened the gap in the state between educational opportunities in rich and in poor districts. "School districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort,” the court wrote in its decision. They concluded that as of now, Kansas does not provide this to all of its students, writing that the state has engaged in "an obvious and continuing pattern of disregard of constitutional funding." The court left a decision on whether the state adequately funds education on a broader level to a lower court to reconsider. Originally, the lower court found that the state must increase funding by $400 million

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The decision is probably not so great news for Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's ambitions to lead an "American Renaissance" by making his state a model for lowering taxes and reducing government. Brownback outlined his vision in January during his State of the State speech, where the conservative added that he believed Kansas's governing strategy would allow people to “realize their God-given potential” and that “our dependence is not on Big Government but on a Big God that loves us and lives within us.” In a statement addressing the ruling, Brownback said on Friday that “This is a complex decision that requires thoughtful review." He added: 

“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 that keeps our schools open, our teachers teaching and our students learning.”

The governor and the legislature have been fighting against the courts and the school districts challenging the state's approach to school funding since 2005, when the state Supreme Court ordered Kansas to increase school funding. Some of the conservative legislators driving down school funding over the years are still bitter about that decision, as the Kansas City Star explains. The conservative leadership controlling the state legislature have already hinted that they might refuse to comply with today's decision. Addressing the state's challenge to the authority of the court to intervene on matters of school funding, the court wrote that "The judiciary is not at liberty to surrender, ignore, or waive" its duty to make sure laws apply with the state's constitution. The full decision is here. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.