Kansas’ current public school budget is unconstitutional, court says

By Daniel S Levine,

The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the public school spending disparity between districts is unconstitutional. While the court ruled that the gap must be closed, it avoided a battle with the legislature over raising overall spending on schools in the state.

In the ruling, the court said that Kansas had disproportionately cut the budgets of poorer school districts during the Great Recession, as tax revenues dropped, reports CBS News. The court sent the case back to a lower court, which will decide how much funding should be going to these districts. No deadline was set for that hearing, but lawmakers have until July 1 to put money back into two funds that are supposed to help these poorer districts.

According to The New York Times, the lower court first said that school funding statewide needed to be raised by $400 million. The mostly conservative legislature has voiced against this ruling, saying that it is their job to figure out the budgets, not the court’s.

“I think the bottom line is that you still have a constitutional issue here as to which branch has the power of the purse,” State Representative Kasha Kelley, a Republican, said. “And clearly that duty lies with the legislative branch.”

The court argued that its power to determine constitutionality covers anything the legislature passes and that includes budgets.

A state Department of Education official already suggested an increase of funding by $129 million for the upcoming 2014-15 school year, notes CBS News. That would be on top of the $3 billion the state already has allocated for schools.

“This is a great win for Kansas kids,” attorney John Robb said, reports Reuters. Robb represents the districts, teachers, students and parents who brought the case to court. “It means that the constitution actually has meaning for kids in Kansas,” he added.

The case was filed in 2010 and the Shawnee County District Court sided with the plaintiffs in January 2013. The state appealed the decision.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who successfully ran for re-election by promising tax cuts, said today’s ruling was a “complex decision requiring thoughtful review.” He added, “I will work with leadership in the Kansas Senate and House to determine a path forward that honors our tradition of providing a quality education to every child and that keeps our schools open, our teachers teaching and our students learning.”

image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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