After 10 years of litigation, the Kansas Supreme Court held that Kansas schools are constitutionally funded in the public finance case of Gannon v. State Friday morning.
The Supreme Court said the 2019 base aid increases put in place by state legislators are in “substantial compliance with the court’s June 25, 2018, mandate” which required the Legislature to ensure “suitable provision for the finance of the educational interests of the state.” This is the court’s seventh decision in the Gannon case, which has long plunged school funding into uncertainty.
Local legislators expressed relief over the ruling, which now allows both the House and Senate to focus on other important issues.
“I am really pleased with this decision,” Senator Jeff Longbine said. “This is a culmination of the efforts last year to bolster the formula up and then the court ruled that we needed to add inflation during the four years of implementation. This year we added inflation. It’s good to know that we now have a formula that the legislature, governor, the State Board of Education and the Supreme Court support that should adequately fund our schools.”
Longbine said K-12 education funding will always be a top priority for state lawmakers, but now they will be able to focus on other areas that have been put on the back burner.
“Now we can begin work on other parts of state government that are equally important issues to the state,” he said. “I’m hopeful we can move forward.”
Representative Mark Schreiber said he had a good feeling about the ruling because there was overwhelming support for the work that had been done.
“We had a good consensus,” he said. “It seemed like everybody was on the same page and thought it was an adequate and appropriate solution, so I’m glad the judges agreed with that. Even though they are going to keep jurisdiction of our compliance — which I think is probably appropriate — I’m glad that we’ve come to this resolution.”
Schreiber echoed Longbine’s comment about being able to put school finance behind them.
“Now the legislature can focus on some other issues that we’ve got going on in the state that need attention as well, and not have this hanging over us all of the time,” he said. “I’m relieved. It’s been about 10 years since the lawsuit began and before that, it just seems like it’s gone on forever. I think we’ve reached the point now where we can say we are constitutionally compliant with our education funding, which I think is vitally important to our students and our state. Hopefully we can move on now and address other issues.”
In 2010, a group of school districts filed a suit against the State of Kansas. The case went to trial in 2012 and, since then, the court has repeatedly ruled that the Kansas Legislature had inadequately and inequitably funded public schools in violation of Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution.
In 2018, the legislature passed and then-Governor Jeff Colyer signed a plan to increase annual school funding by $525 million a year. At the time, the Supreme Court said the plan failed to account for funding lost to inflation.
Then, in April, the Legislature passed House Substitute for Senate Bill 16, which adds $90 million in annual funding for four years. Both Republicans and Democrats supported the plan and Governor Laura Kelly signed it into law.
Kelly, who campaigned on the promise to end school finance litigation, said the decision was a win for Kansas Friday in a written release.
“Today is a great day for Kansas and for our kids,” she said. “Educating our kids is not just one of the best ways to address challenges facing our state, it’s also our moral and constitutional obligation. Yet, for years, our leaders failed to meet that obligation.”
Kelly said she would work with the legislature to ensure education funding remained constitutionally adequate.
“I will do everything I can to hold the legislature to its promise to fully fund our schools and avoid more legal battles over our education system,” she said. “Funding our schools is about more than money and lawsuits. It’s about our kids, their hopes and dreams, and the future of Kansas. Investing in our children’s education is the best investment we can make, and as long as I am Governor, I will continue to fight for our schools and our kids.”