Topeka The Kansas Supreme Court today dismissed the landmark school finance case, saying the Legislature had fixed inequities in the state's system for funding public schools.
In an unprecedented announcement before releasing the opinion, Chief Justice Kay McFarland stated: "This case is not about winners and losers -- it is about the children of Kansas.
"They will be better educated and better prepared to meet the challenges of our rapidly changing society. Kansas will be the ultimate beneficiary."
The court split 4-2 with two justices Carol Beier and Marla Luckert saying they would have allowed the new school finance law to take effect for this school year, but would have ordered that an education cost study done for the Legislature be analyzed by a state district court.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and lawmakers sighed relief once the decision was announced.
"This ruling is good news for Kansas and a welcome resolution to this case," Sebelius said.
"I'm relieved; somewhat surprised," said House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, who has been a vocal critic of the court over its previous rulings in the case.
The school finance lawsuit has been the No. 1 political issue before the Legislature the past two years.
Attorney General Phill Kline on the Supreme Court decision
At stake in the case was the $3.1 billion funding method that supports the 450,000-student public school system.
In 2005, the state Supreme Court declared the system unconstitutional because it shortchanged all students, especially schools in districts with high proportions of low-income students. Some of those districts brought the lawsuit in 1999.
The court accepted a $290 million increase after a contentious special legislative session, as a down payment pending outcome of a study showing the actual costs of an adequate education.
That study done by the Legislative Division of Post Audit recommended a $400 million increase for the next school year.
In May, the Legislature approved a $466 million increase, but stretched that over three years with the first-year increase totaling $194.5 million. That measure, called Senate Bill 549, was argued before the court in June.
But today, the court sidestepped questions about the constitutionality of SB 549.
The 4-2 majority said the $756 million in additional funds over the past two years constituted "substantial compliance with our prior orders."
The court added; "A constitutional challenge of SB 549 must wait for another day."
That logic angered advocates for more school funding.
"It's like the court decided to evade making a decision instead of making one," said John Martellaro, with Kansas Families United for Public Education. "By not ruling on the constitutionality of (SB) 549, they have invited the parties to drag this all the way through the courts again, which is disappointing.
"I had hoped for greater resolution than what we got," he said.
Alan Rupe, an attorney representing the plaintiff school districts, said he had to speak with his clients before deciding what the next move would be.
But Rupe said he respected the court's decision and that "it's hard to be disappointed in looking back in what we accomplished."
He said significant sums of monies have been directed toward "the kids that need the most to educate."
Dan Biles, an attorney representing the State Board of Education, noted that the fight over equitable funding for public education may not be over.
Rupe had filed a similar lawsuit in federal court in Wichita before U.S. District Court Judge Monti Belot. Action in that case has been held back pending outcome of the state lawsuit.
"I think the focus will turn to Wichita and the federal court there to see what the parties and what Judge Belot wants to do with the claims in that case," Biles said. Rupe declined to say what, if anything, would happen with the federal lawsuit.
Biles added, "All you can say is that for right now with this bill in this situation, we're done."