TOPEKA — The Kansas Supreme Court Monday ruled for the third time in two years that the state's spending on public schools is inadequate despite an increase approved earlier this year, but gave the state another year to come up with more funding.
The high court 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. But in a nod to the Legislature's efforts, the court delayed its mandate until June 30, 2019, or until further order of the court.
The court said that by making "financial adjustments" the state can satisfactorily address the remaining issues. Those include changes addressing inflation.
Kansas State Representative Monica Murnan (D-Pittsburg) said she was not surprised by the court rule on Monday.
“I’m not surprised by the court rule on regarding adequacy, but I am pleased with the ruling on equity,” she said.
Murnan said along the way other legislators did not want to put enough money in the formula.
She said the information is a decision based on specific evidence provided to the court.
“It’s not just someone or the court saying ‘money, money, money,’ it is an evidence-driven decision,” Murnan said. “In all practicality, we have not kept up with the times and we need to add more dollars.”
Kansas State Senator Richard Hilderbrand (R-Baxter Springs) said, “It appears — on first glance — they just want inflation for the outyears on the funding.”
Kansas State Representative Adam Lusker (D-Frontenac) also said the ruling went as expected. He said this was thanks to a good tax policy from the 2017 tax session and it will take a little time to “massage” through the policy a bit more to continue the way things are going.
He said the ruling was the “best we can ask for at this point.”
“We’re a little bit behind, but made a good effort in the last session, the court recognized that,” he said, adding that because of these efforts schools will be open in July and highways will be built again.
Four school districts which sued the state in 2010 argued that the increase still left the state as much as $1.5 billion a year short of what was necessary.
The state now spends more than $4 billion a year on aid to its 286 local school districts.
The Republican-controlled Legislature boosted income taxes last year to close projected budget shortfalls, but part of the hike went to increase spending on public schools in response to a March 2017 order from the court. But the justices declared in October that the higher amount still wasn't enough to comply with the state constitution.
Lawmakers and Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer were looking this year to increase education funding without raising taxes — and they've been aided by a year of monthly surpluses in tax collections. But a majority of the seven justices were openly skeptical that the new law was adequate during a hearing in May.
The four school districts that sued pointed to an academic study this year that said improving Kansas' schools could cost almost $2.1 billion more a year, depending on the state's ambitions.
GOP leaders commissioned the study and were taken aback by its conclusions. It gave them estimates based on big improvements in students' scores on standardized English and math tests. The highest funding estimate was based on reaching a 95 percent high school graduation rate, something no state has achieved.
Kansas has been in and out of school funding lawsuits for several decades. The state constitution requires legislators to "make suitable provision for finance" of the state's "educational interests," and the Supreme Court has ruled it's a requirement to ensure that all children receive a suitable education, regardless of whether they live in rich or poor areas.
— Editors note, the Associated Press contributed to this report.