KS Supreme Court: School funding still falls short; equity standards met

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW/AP) -- The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the state's spending on public schools remains inadequate despite an increase approved earlier this year, but gave the state another year to come up with more funding.

The high court on Monday unanimously rejected arguments from the state that a new law phasing in a $548 million increase in funding over five years is enough to provide a "suitable" education for every child as specified in the state constitution.

The decision criticized the methods for accounting for inflation used by lawmakers when determining how much more money was needed for schools.

When accounting for inflation for the coming school year, the Justices said the legislation neglected to account for inflation consistently. The Court said lawmakers failed to account for inflation when determining for the 2018-19 school year, whereas other estimates used for determining a satisfactory amount did.

Additionally, the legislation does not take into account inflation over the course of the five-year plan designed to return school funding to constitutionally satisfactory standards, the Court said. By not calculating that in, the Justices said they fell short of the amount needed to keep up with additional funding needed to meet the previous standards.

The court delayed its mandate until June 30, 2019, or until further order of the court.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Alan Rupe, said the decision shows Kansas leads the nation in finding ways to fully fund its schools and lawmakers now have a "precise roadmap" to resolve its constitutional issues.

"Kansas has done it civilly, without yelling and screaming, and in an orderly process, with no teacher strikes and no huge drama," he said. "For the sake of all Kansas kids, we hope the Legislature arrives soon at that destination."

It was the third time in two years the court declared education funding inadequate. This year's increase came after the GOP-controlled Legislature boosted funding and raised income taxes last year.

Following the decision, Gov. Jeff Colyer said he "look(s) forward to building on the work we did together this year to address the remaining issues identified in the ruling."

"As a doctor, I know it is important to see continuous improvement. We will maintain a sharp focus on sending dollars to the classroom without raising taxes," he added.

The court ruled in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by four school districts. The districts argued that this year's increase still left the state up to $1.5 billion a year short of adequate spending.

Kansas has been in and out of lawsuits over education funding for several decades. The arguments Tuesday were in a lawsuit filed by four school districts in 2010, when this year’s high school graduates were fifth-graders. The state Supreme Court has issued a series of rulings, pushing lawmakers to boost funding, declaring in October that the state’s current funding of more than $4 billion a year is not adequate.