TOPEKA The Kansas Supreme Court today handed down its long-awaited ruling in the school finance case, Gannon vs. Kansas. Here is a summary of the decision:
• Supplemental general state aid: This is money the state spends to subsidize the Local Option Budgets, or LOBs, for districts that have less property wealth than richer districts. The state currently provides only partial funding for this pot of money, so it is distributed on a pro-rated basis, meaning districts entitled to the money receive only a portion of what they are supposed to receive.
The court agreed with a lower court ruling that the lack of full funding creates unconstitutional inequities among districts because poorer districts are less well funded than wealthier ones. It gave the Legislature until July 1 to restore the funding and remanded the issue to the lower court for review.
If the Legislature only restores part of the funding, the lower court must review the action to determine if it was sufficient to cure the inequities.
If the Legislature does nothing on LOB funding by July 1, the lower court is directed to either enjoin the LOB funding mechanism in its entirety — effectively ending all local option budgets — “or enter such other orders as it deems appropriate.”
Estimated cost to restore full funding: $103.9 million per year.
• Capital Outlay Equalization: This is money the state spends to subsidize the capital outlay budgets of poorer districts. The Legislature had not provided any funding for this program since 2009.
The Court agreed with the lower court decision that the lack of funding creates unconstitutional inequities among districts and upheld the lower court's order to restore funding.
If the Legislature only provides partial restoration, the ruling directs the lower court to review the action to determine if the inequities have been cured.
If the Legislature takes no action, the ruling directs the lower court to declare null and void an existing statute that prevents the transfer of money to the capital outlay equalization fund, thus, at least theoretically, making the money available.
“Ultimately, the (trial court) must ensure the inequities in the present operation of the capital outlay statutes ... are cured,” the court said.
Estimated cost of full funding: $25.2 million per year.
• Adequacy of Base State Aid: In 2005, the court ruled in an earlier case, Montoy vs. Kansas, that funding must be based on the actual cost of providing a suitable education. To resolve that case, the Legislature increased the base aid formula over several years, setting it at $4,492 per pupil in the 2009-2010 academic year and beyond.
The trial court said because the Legislature has since cut that amount, which is currently $3,838 per pupil, it no longer reflects the actual cost of educating students, and it ordered the Legislature to restore the $4,492 funding amount, or to set another amount that reflects actual costs.
Today's ruling remands the issue back to the trial court with instructions to use a different standard for determining adequate funding.
Instead of using “actual costs,” the ruling directs the lower court to use the “Rose standard,” named after a landmark 1985 Kentucky Supreme Court case, “Rose vs. Council for Better Education.”
That case says adequate funding is measured by seven “learning goals” for every student:
• Sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization.
• Sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices.
• Sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation.
• Sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness.
• Sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage.
• Sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently.
• And sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.
Estimated cost: Unknown.