Editorial: Not exactly progress

It’s hard not to want more from the Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling.

The court ruled Monday that the new financing formula adopted by the Legislature earlier this year does not provide adequate funding to ensure all public school students receive a satisfactory education. But the court stopped short of shutting down the state’s public schools, instead giving the Legislature another crack at getting the school finance formula right. Lawmakers have until June 30, 2018, to put a new plan in place.

So, lawmakers find themselves in the same position they were in a year ago — facing the threat of a school shutdown if they don’t come up with an equitable school finance formula that will generate an adequate amount of money to fund the state’s schools.

The biggest problem legislators have is trying to determine how much funding is enough. As in previous rulings, the court did not say Monday how much funding is needed to meet the court’s definition of adequate, and the court did not offer details on how to construct an equitable system What legislators know is that the $200 million they added to school funding this year wasn’t enough.

The court did note that the “base” per-pupil aid of $4,006 provided under the new law is lower than the $4,012 the state provided in 2010. The state argued that $4,006 represents an amount derived by examining spending by 41 school districts where student performance greatly exceeds what would be expected, given the demographic makeup of the district. And the amount would rise to $4,128 next year and be indexed to inflation after that.

But the court rejected the state’s argument, saying the state’s case lacked documentation and that performing better than expected is not the same as performing adequately.

“We’ve got work to do, and quite a bit of work to do,” said Republican Rep. Jim Karleskint, of Tonganoxie, who served on the panel that wrote the new plan. “I’m pleased that they’re not closing schools, but I’m disappointed in some of the things, but I’m not surprised.”

As Karleskint said, the court was right to not close schools. After all, that would only further punish the students the court is trying to help. But keeping schools open means the court gives up the only leverage it has.

Outgoing Gov. Sam Brownback called Monday’s ruling “yet another regrettable chapter in the never ending cycle of litigation over Kansas school funding.”

Brownback has a point. Nearly 7 years after Gannon v. Kansas (the school finance lawsuit) was filed, the state’s financing methodology remains inequitable, school funding remains inadequate, the court has offered little in the way of guidance, and schools continue to operate largely as they always have.

It’s not exactly progress.