School Funding Cases in Kansas

in Kansas Litigation

Historical Background

The four cases consolidated into Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court desegregation decision in 1954, included Kansas’ original Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka suit.

In 1972, a trial Court found the Kansas public education funding system unconstitutional, in Caldwell v. State, Case No. 50616 (Johnson County District Court, slip. op. Aug. 30). In 1973, the legislature responded by passing the School District Equalization Act (SDEA), which established a foundation level of school funding per pupil and committed the state to fund the difference between local revenues and this target amount.

In 1990, plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the SDEA. A trial court “Opinion in Advance of Trial” held that “the duty owed by the Legislature to each child to furnish him or her with an educational opportunity is equal to that owed every other child.” Mock v. State, 91CV1009 (Shawnee County District Court, Oct. 14, 1991). The governor created a special task force to devise a new school finance system, and, in 1992, the state adopted the School District Finance and Quality Performance Act (SDFQPA). The Kansas Supreme Court upheld the new system in Unified School District No. 229 v. State, 885 P.2d 1170 (1994).

Montoy v. State

In 2001, a state court dismissed Montoy v. State, No. 99-C-1738 (Shawnee County, Nov. 21, 2001), which challenged the SDFQPA and the state “capital outlay” and special education “excess costs” funding statutes under the state constitution. In January 2003, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed and remanded for trial, which was held the following summer. The trial court issued its decision in favor of plaintiffs in December 2003 and set a July 1, 2004 deadline for the State to enact a remedy.

In late 2004 and January of 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s finding that the state education finance system was violating the Kansas Constitution and set an April deadline for remedial action by the legislature. Montoy v. State. The legislature acted by the deadline, but enacted legislation that provided substantially less funding than the amount deemed necessary by a 2002 costing out study the state had commissioned. The plaintiffs returned to the court, which found the remedy insufficient.

In a rapid decision it issued in April, 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the legislature to provide $290 million, the amount the cost study had recommended for the first year of a multi-year phase-in by June 30. The Governor called a special session to respond to the Court order, and although the legislature failed to act by the requisite date, it did meet over the July 4th weekend and enacted a bill that appropriated the full amount the Court had ordered for the 2005-06 school year prior to the July 8 date the court had established to consider penalties for non-compliance. (The trial judge had recommended closing down the entire state public education system until such time as a constitutionally adequate finance system was in place.) The Court then ordered the Legislative Division of Post Audit (LPA) to incorporate the cost of outputs, as well as inputs, in a cost study to determine required funding levels for future years. In the event that the LPA failed to comply, the Court held that it would consider mandating additional funding for the 2006-07 school year based on the 2002 cost study. This would have resulted in an additional funding increase of $568 million.


The Legislative Coordinating Council hired education finance experts to conduct a study of the cost of providing an adequate (“suitable” in the Kansas Constitution) education. The study, released in May 2002, was based on a detailed adequacy definition, including “inputs” and “outcomes,” and it used both the “professional judgment” and “successful schools” costing-out methodologies. The study concluded that Kansas needed to increase K-12 education spending by $853 million. An analysis of the study is at Kansas Fact Sheet 2002.

After increasing state education funding in 2005, the legislature directed its Legislative Division of Post Audit (LPA) to conduct a follow-up cost study. Released in January 2006, this study estimated the need for a school funding increase of at least $399 million beyond the increase enacted in 2005. Analysis of this study is at Kansas Fact Sheet 2006.

Recent Events

In its 2006 session, the legislature responded to the supreme court’s concerns about adequate funding and equitable distribution of funds, increasing annual state funding by another $466 million, to be phased in over three years, and allocating almost one-third of the increase to mid-size and large districts and their disproportionately low-income, ELL, and special education students. The Kansas Supreme Court held that the new system complied with its earlier decisions in Montoy and closed the case in July 2006.

In January 2010, lawyers for the plaintiffs filed a motion with the Court to re-open Montoy v. State of Kansas. In their petition, the plaintiffs—Salina Unified School District 305, Dodge City Unified School District 443 and Schools for Fair Funding, Inc., a coalition of 74 school districts—alleged that the substantial funding reductions in state aid to Kansas’ school districts over the past year violate the court’s prior orders in the Montoy case and Article VI, § 6 of the Kansas constitution, which mandates “suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” Plaintiffs alleged that the legislature has continued a pattern of tax cuts and budget decreases—including five cuts last year that have effectively undermined any gains from the litigation—without considering “the actual costs of providing an adequate education.”

On February 12, the Kansas Supreme Court denied the motion to re-open. Chief Justice Robert E. Davis’ opinion for the court held that because re-opening an appeal that has been dismissed disturbs the finality of a judgment, the judiciary should exercise its power to re-open a case only “in extraordinary circumstances” and “as the last resort.” Justice Davis also alluded to other potential issues, including whether the original plaintiff, who may have graduated from school at this point, still had standing and whether all of the school districts that had participated in the original case would continue in future litigation. Additionally, Chief Justice Davis questioned the petitioners’ claim that re-opening the case would promote “judicial efficiency.” Their request for remand to the district court would require the plaintiffs to “go through essentially the same process as a new case: the filing of an amended petition…, discovery and trial.”

New Lawsuit in Response to Montoy v. Kansas

On November 2, 2010, plaintiffs from four Kansas school districts filed a new lawsuit against the state, Gannon v. State of Kansas, claiming that the legislature has failed to comply with the 2006 settlement of Montoy v. Kansas. In addition to arguing that the budget cuts have denied school districts the funds promised by the Montoy decision, the plaintiffs also argue that, in recent years, the cost of educating kids has increased and there have been significant increases in overall enrollment and in the numbers of students eligible for free and reduced meals. The case is scheduled to go to trial on June 4, 2012.

Parents in Shawnee Mission Unified School District No. 512 file suit against school board, state

A lawsuit with a very original constitutional claim was filed in December 2010. Ten parents in Shawnee Mission Unified School District No. 512 argued that a state-imposed cap on the amount of money residents can tax themselves to support their school funding is unconstitutional because it denies them fundamental liberty and property interests and their right as parents to direct and participate in the upbringing and education of their children. The legislature sets the cap as a percentage of state-provided funds and prohibits any school district from raising additional revenue above the cap. The complaint also states that the cap denies them equal protection of the law because it “disproportionately affects the Shawnee Mission School District because it receives one of the lowest levels of per-pupil funding in the State. Of 296 Kansas school districts, Shawnee Mission ranks 265th.” In 2008-2009, Shawnee Mission School District received $4,701 per student in state aid, compared to the state average of $7,344 per pupil. The Kansas Board of Education promptly moved to be dropped as a defendant, since they have no control over legislative decisions.

On March 11, 2011 United States District Judge John W. Lungstrum dismissed the suit. The court dismissed the case because it held that the Act contains two separate non-severability provisions which would require the court to invalidate the state’s entire school funding scheme if it should determine that the property tax cap was unconstitutional. Plaintiffs themselves would reap no benefit from such an outcome, the court concluded, because if the entire education funding statute were held unconstitutional, the district would have no authority to raise any funds for education.

Useful Resources

Charles Berger, Equity Without Adjudication: Kansas School Finance Reform and the 1992 School District Finance and Quality Performance Act, 27 Journal of Law & Education 1 (January 1998).

Richard E. Levy, Gunfight At the K-12 Corral: Legislative vs. Judicial Power in the Kansas School finance Litigation, 54 Kan. L. Rev. 1021 (2006).

Last updated: April 2012

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