In an attempt to comply with the Kansas Supreme Court’s order that it cure its current constitutional violations and provide equitable levels of funding to the plaintiff school districts by June 30, 2016, the state Legislature earlier this month enacted a bill that will redistribute $83 million of state aid to local school districts for 2016-2017 through a complicated use of aid formulas and hold harmless provisions. Governor Sam Brownback has now signed the bill into law.
The redistribution will for 2016-2017 provide more funds to poor districts identified by the court by reducing amounts that are provided to some other districts, but then would provide other aid to most of these districts under hold harmless provisions. Over-all this change would not have much effect on the gaps in funding levels among districts because school districts would still be allowed to increase their local property taxes to raise extra money for their schools. Legislators said that they would write a whole new formula next year. John Robb, one of the attorneys representing the poor districts said that the state would be “renaming the money” it already provides and not really be helping the poor districts.
In 2015, while the merits of the Gannon case were still pending before the Supreme Court, a three-judge state court panel issued a temporary restraining order that struck down key provisions of the state’s new school funding formula, holding that the new system was unconstitutional. The statutory changes had been initiated by Gov. Sam Brownback to help balance his budget by reducing school outlays by about $54 million. The three-judge panel ruled that the new K-12 funding system—which dispensed with the per-pupil formula in favor of a block-grant mechanism —–violates the state constitution “both in regard to its adequacy of funding and in its change of, and in its embedding of, inequities in the provision of capital outlay state aid and supplemental general state aid.”
In February 2016, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the equity aspect of the panel’s decision and held that if the state did not comply with its ruling by June 30, 2016, then the entire public education system will be shut down for the next school year. The Court will hold a hearing on May 10th and then pick up regarding the new law, and whether the new law will be deemed satisfactory compliance remains to be seen.