Friday, January 11, 2013 was a monumental day for children across the state of Kansas. In a 250-page opinion, a three-judge panel from the Shawnee County District Court ruled that the cuts in school funding made by the Kansas Legislature since 2009 violate the Kansas Constitution. The court ordered funding for the 2013 school year to return to the levels specified in the 2006 Supreme Court decision in the Montoy case, with base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) rising from $3780 to $4492.
You will remember that students in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools were among the lead plaintiffs in the school funding lawsuit against the state, and that in June, staff from the district led off the testimony at the trial in Topeka. This ruling vindicates all of the time, effort and sacrifice that went in to participating in this lawsuit.
What was perhaps even more shocking than either the decision or the remedy, was the language the court used in support of its decision:
- “Slashing costs without first determining the best methods to the latter [the individual and systemic value that should be required of scarce tax dollars] represents not a solution, but rather an act principally grounded on, perhaps, frustration and, certainly, gamble, either of which is unhelpful as policy and immensely and irretrievably destructive of our children’s future.”
- “In truth, and in fact, it appears that the Kansas Legislature… wholly disregarded the considerations required to demonstrate a compliance with Article 6, § 6(b) [of the Kansas Constitution].
- “[T]he failure to provide full opportunity for learning experiences in our Kansas K-12 school system in the past due to a shortfall in funding is truly sad, however, a continuation of the status quo would only deepen the reflection of opportunities lost. For past students and future students, ‘all that they can be’ was, is currently, and will be, compromised.”
- “An educational system that permits these results is neither fair, nor balanced, nor in the public interest. More importantly, in Kansas, such an educational system is not constitutional.”
So, what happens next? Well, the Kansas Attorney General, Derek Schmidt, filed an appeal on Friday afternoon to the Kansas Supreme Court (probably before he even had a chance to read the entire decision!) This means that the district court ruling is “stayed” pending the outcome of the appeal. So, despite the unanimous and unambiguous decision, the legislature will probably not face any requirement to fix the school funding system until after the Supreme Court rules, probably early this summer.
Of course, there is nothing to prevent the legislature and the governor from doing the right thing, and funding a school finance system for Kansas that ensures that every student has the chance to graduate fully prepared for college and careers. The language of the court makes very clear what they should do. My parents raised me to always do the right thing, and if I don’t, I don’t sleep at night. We’ll see if Ambien sales spike in Topeka this spring.
Seriously, most observers don’t expect to see any significant increases in school funding to occur before the 2014-2015 school. This means that we will plan for the next school year (2013-2014) under the assumption that we will see level funding at best. At the same time, we could not have asked for a more strongly worded and supportive decision from the district court, and we go into the second semester with renewed hope for the future of education in Kansas.