Kansas Supreme Court Justices peppered attorneys for the state of Kansas on SB 19, a new finance formula that adds $293 million to school coffers. Plaintiffs and the state offered oral arguments in the ongoing legal drama over school funding.
In 2010, four school districts, Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita, and Kansas City, Kansas, sued the state saying school funding was inadequate. The Court responded ruling unconstitutional block grants, which funded Kansas schools for the last two years. Specifically, the Court opined a new school funding formula should adequately calculate funding so at-risk children can meet educational standards. Justices stopped short of demanding a specific dollar amount, but Justices’ questions on Tuesday largely focused on dollars and cents.
Justice Dan Biles said considering inflation, the injection of $293 million more into public education is less than what the state spent on public education in 2008.
“How do we justify giving less money today than we did in ‘08-’09?” He asked attorneys for the state and legislature, Stephen McAllister and Jeff King.
Lawmakers based their funding on an average of what districts with students who meet and exceed standards spend. Biles said there was no validity to the statistical model lawmakers used. Biles appeared more receptive to arguments from Alan Rupe, the attorney for the plaintiffs.
Rupe argued that the legislature didn’t take into consideration a budget recommendation from the Kansas State Board of Education.
“The problem is the Legislature doesn’t listen to them,” Rupe told the Court.
How the state board reached that recommendation wasn’t discussed at length during oral arguments, but minutes and video of that meeting can be viewed here. A divided state school board in July 2016 recommended that lawmakers to add $900 million in school funding over the next two years. Their recommendation was cobbled together during the last 10 minutes of a July 2016 board meeting.
“They school board did exactly what the Supreme Court excoriated the Legislature for in the past, which was just plucking a number out of thin air,” said Dave Trabert, the president of the Kansas Policy Institute.
Board members briefly discussed base state aid per pupil numbers referencing an old, moot cost study.
King argued that the new school finance formula was a good faith effort, and asked the Court to give it time to work. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, however, appeared reluctant to do that.
“You’re asking us to give another two or three years for things to play out, when this lawsuit was filed in 2010,” Nuss said.
Legal watchers anticipate Justices will make a quick decision, and Rupe asked that lawmakers be given a Sept. 1 deadline to add funding. That would require a special legislative session.