The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision not to reopen the school finance case it closed in 2006 may have given the Kansas Legislature a reprieve, but there is little doubt the state’s public schools will be back in court soon if lawmakers don’t take some drastic action to improve school funding by the end of the current session.
The decision announced Friday was largely procedural, and attorneys for the school districts represented in the original lawsuit already have said a new lawsuit seeking to force the state to properly fund K-12 schools will be filed later this spring. It’s possible that legislation passed this session could ward off the lawsuit, but it’s highly unlikely.
Attorney General Steve Six said he is prepared to defend the state in such a case but, in a statement Friday, he added, “I encourage lawmakers to limit cuts to schools and find a responsible solution to our state’s budget challenges.” Gov. Mark Parkinson expressed concern about lawsuits being filed against the state during such difficult economic times, but also acknowledged, “We’ve cut education as much as we can.”
We hope legislators agree with the governor’s assessment. The state’s public schools cannot absorb additional cuts without making decisions that negatively impact a whole generation of future Kansans.
It may be unseemly for school districts to spend the money that will be necessary to seek a legal remedy to the state’s dismal funding for public schools, but their frustration is understandable. In the 1990s, the state took over the bulk of funding for public schools statewide in an effort to equalize spending in comparatively richer and poorer districts. The idea was to provide a better education for every child in Kansas.
The ironic result of that move today is that, instead of raising the level of education statewide, Kansas now is penalizing all public school districts equally while restricting the use of local taxes to help alleviate that situation.
Even if the school finance case had been reopened, it’s unlikely any court action would have come soon enough to influence the current budget negotiations. Although school districts may appreciate any help they can get, it’s also unlikely that anything legislators do to boost school funding this session will be enough to prevent the districts from going back to court.
Providing money for public schools is a basic duty of state government, as outlined in the Kansas Constitution. It’s discouraging that these funding issues can’t be settled without repeated court battles that are costly both to the school districts and the state.