For the fifth time in the past seven years, the Kansas Supreme Court has held that the legislature’s attempts to revise the state’s system for funding public education fails to meet applicable constitutional requirements. In a unanimous ruling issued on Monday, the court held that legislation enacted at the end of June in response to a court-ordered deadline failed to meet constitutional standards for both adequacy and equity in funding.
In March 2017 the Kansas Supreme Court had held that the state’s education financing system is, “not reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the minimum constitutional standards of adequacy.” It ordered the state to enact a new constitutionally-acceptable education funding system by June 30, 2017. The legislature adopted a bill in late June, 2017 that put back in place a per-pupil funding formula that is similar to the formula lawmakers repealed in 2015; it increased state aid by about $291 million over the next two years, and allowed districts to raise additional funds through local option budget (LOB) procedures that involve raising their local tax rates and through expanded use of local capital outlay funds. The legislation replaced a system of block grants that the court had held to be unconstitutional.
The court held now that the recent legislation failed to meet the state’s burden of showing that the state’s education finance system is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the “Rose” adequacy standards. The judges sharply criticized the state’s “successful schools methodology” for its failure to analyze the level of funding that would be needed to provide students a reasonable opportunity to meet increased state achievement standards, and it also held that the state’s methodology did not establish “any valid figure” for the funding level a successful school would need to meet the constitutional adequacy standards, especially in regard to the added weights that should be applied to meet the needs of “at risk” students. The court further determined that the increasing reliance on local LOB funding in the bill is unconstitutional because LOBs are dependent on local property wealth factors that are inherently inequitable.
Taking note of the fact that the state has operated an unconstitutional funding system for 12 of the past 15 years, the Court retained jurisdiction, ordered the state to enact a new state funding system before April 30, 2018 and established a specific briefing schedule that will allow the Court sufficient time to consider the new legislation and the parties’ positions supporting and opposing it before the end of this school year. In the meantime, the current legislation will remain in effect. The Court specifically committed itself to issue a new decision by June 30, 2018. Two of the judges would have ordered the state to act by by December 31, 2017 and one judge would have immediately banned the inequitable LOB provisions of the current act.