The Kansas Supreme Court should not close the state’s schools, even if the court believes the new school plan adopted by the Legislature does not provide adequate funding.
June 30 is the deadline the court gave lawmakers in a March 2 decision that struck down the current school funding system as inadequate and therefore unconstitutional. The court said it would not allow the state to operate an unconstitutional funding system beyond the deadline, meaning the state’s public schools could not operate beyond that date.
But even if the state hasn’t completely solved the school-funding problem, it clearly is moving in the right direction by adopting a new school-funding bill that will provide more than $550 million in new funding for education over the next two years. Even if the new funds are deemed inadequate, closing the schools hardly seems the appropriate remedy.
The new school-funding bill — which Gov. Sam Brownback signed last week —restores a per-pupil funding formula similar to the one repealed in 2015. The plan adds “weightings” for student subsets such as those living in poverty and non-English speakers that are more costly to educate. The plan will increase education funding $280 million next year and $293 million the year after, with automatic increases tied to the Midwest inflation rate in the following years.
It is the dollar amount that is in dispute. The Supreme Court has never specifically said what an adequate amount of funding is. But Alan Rupe, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, has said the recently approved legislation “falls way short of the funds necessary to achieve a constitutionally adequate education for all Kansas public school children.”
Rupe has called for increasing K-12 funding by more than $800 million per year, which is similar to the amount requested by the Kansas State Board of Education when it submitted a budget request to the governor’s office last fall.
Last week, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt urged the Supreme Court to act quickly to approve the new system as constitutional, and to hold off on closing the school system after June 30 if its review of the new law goes beyond that deadline.
The court said last week it plans to conduct a conference call with attorneys in the case today “to discuss deadlines and identify at least the major issues arising out of the signing” of the school funding bill. Hopefully, the court can, as Schmidt urged, act quickly and if there are problems with the funding bill, develop a timeline that avoids closing schools. After all, closing the state’s public schools serves no one’s best interests.