Topeka To life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, add an adequate education as a right guaranteed all Kansans under the state constitution.
At least, that's the conclusion of three justices of the Kansas Supreme Court, who indicated Friday that they would go even further than the court already has in forcing improvements in school funding.
Justices Carol Beier and Marla Luckert issued new opinions to accompany a decision the Supreme Court issued in January, requiring the Legislature to provide more money to schools and distribute the dollars more fairly. Justice Robert Davis joined Beier in her opinion.
The new opinions don't alter the seven-member court's previous, unanimous rulings on education funding issues, which forced legislators to increase aid to public schools by $290 million this year, or by more than 10 percent. But they could become significant as the court continues to review school finance issues.
"If the Supreme Court should adopt the reasoning of these three justices, what it would amount to is, the court would take over writing the school finance formula and determining how much money should be spent, because the state could never win a lawsuit again," said Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, an attorney and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Supreme Court rulings on school finance in January, June and July came in a lawsuit filed against the state in 1999 by parents and administrators in Dodge City and Salina. The case remains before the court, which has said it could order further spending increases in the future.
Alan Rupe, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said the new opinions take the same position his clients did and, if adopted by the entire court, would put a bigger burden on the state.
"When the state tries to evade a fundamental right, they have a more difficult time justifying that evasion," he said.
The plaintiffs argued that the state spent too little money on its schools and distributed the dollars unfairly, hurting poor and minority students.
They also argued that the state's school funding formula unfairly discriminated against poor and minority students - the one claim the Supreme Court rejected in January. Beier said the decision suggested the state constitution didn't make education a fundamental right.
She and Davis disagreed, citing Article 6, which declares, "The Legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools, educational institutions and related activities."
Another section says: "The Legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state."
"We would need to look no further than the mandatory language of these two constitutional provisions," Beier wrote. "Because they explicitly provide for education, education is a fundamental right."
In her opinion, Luckert said under the article, "Kansas citizens mandate legislative action and then define the scope of the required action."
Spokesman Whitney Watson said Atty. Gen. Phill Kline's office had not had time to review the legal significance of the new opinions.
But Vratil said if the entire court adopted the three justices' reasoning, the Legislature's actions on school finance would face strict scrutiny when challenged.
"The Legislature would have to prove there is a compelling state interest to do what the Legislature had done and that there is no other way to provide adequate and equitable funding of schools," Vratil said. "You can't win with that test."
Previously, Vratil said, the court has said the standard for determining whether the system is constitutional is whether legislators had a rational basis for the choices they made. Such a standard makes it difficult for parties who sue the state to prevail, he said.
More about school finance
- Webcast of live arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court (requires Windows Media Player)
- Brief of the Montoy suit (.pdf)
- Timeline of events in school finance lawsuit
- 6News video: School finance bill to face court
- Plaintiffs: School finance bill fails grade (06-13-06)
- State wants high court to dismiss school suit (06-02-06)
- Legislature approves school finance plan (05-10-06)
- Chat with Bob Corkins, Kansas Education Commissioner (02-02-06)
- House roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan (07-07-05)
- Supt. Weseman's contingency plan (07-06-05)
- More about school finance »
- Conference Committee on Senate Bill 549
- House bill info
- Senate bill info
- Kansas public schools cost study
- Kansas public schools cost study executive summary
- Public Education Finances 2004 (.pdf)
- Senate roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan
- Supreme Court's Show Cause Order (07-02-05)
- Supreme Court's Order Denying Extension (.pdf)
- Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
- Supplemental Note on Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)