School Funding Unconstitutional in Kansas

Last Updated: March 24, 2014

This article appeared in the March 2014 Rural Policy Matters.

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The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s recent across-the-board funding cuts to public K–12 schools are a violation of the state’s constitution. The decision upholds a unanimous January 2013 decision by a three-judge panel that found the finance system fails to meet constitutional standards.

In its decision in Gannon v. State of Kansas, the Court gave the state legislature until July 1, 2014 to remedy inequities in state aid to districts for both capital expenses (equipment and buildings) and operations (general expenses). The cost to the state is expected to be about $130 million.

The ruling is the latest in a long-running battle over school funding that has pitted conservative lawmakers against school districts. In response to a ruling in the 2006 Montoy v. State, the legislature established and began phasing in cost-based funding standards that provided (among other things) additional funding for students who cost more to educate and to improve funding adequacy across the state.

But after only two years of the phase-in, the recession reduced revenues and legislators reduced funding for schools by $386 million. Legislators further reduced revenues with tax cuts in 2012 and 2013 that will amount to $3.9 billion over the next five years, according to the Associated Press. Gannon was filed in 2010 in response to funding cuts.

The state had argued that the Gannon districts lacked standing to bring the lawsuit and that school funding issues are not subject to judicial review—that they are non-justiciable. But the Court found the districts did have standing because of their constitutional duties to operate local school systems. The Court also found that funding issues are subject to review as part of the judiciary’s duty to review legislation. The Court cited Kansas precedent as well as rulings in several other states on the justiciability question.

Two issues: equity and adequacy

The decision is especially important to low wealth districts that lack capacity to generate significant revenues at the local level. The Court found that the legislature’s across-the-board cuts in aid established wealth-based disparities that are inequitable.

The Court has not yet determined whether the state is providing enough funding to meet educational standards, however. Instead, the Court clarified that funding must be sufficient to meet the adequacy requirements currently set forth in Kansas law and the standards of the Rose case. Rose is the name of the Kentucky school finance case that established adequacy standards that have been adopted by several states, including Kansas. The Supreme Court clarified these adequacy standards and sent Gannon back to the three-judge panel to determine whether the state is meeting its constitutional duty as it relates to school funding adequacy.

What’s next?

The Court did not tell the state how much it must spend to meet adequacy requirements, something that has happened in the past. Some lawmakers who defend reductions in school spending have hailed this fact. Advocates for students and school districts, however, claim the decision establishes that the state must provide funding at an adequate level and further clarifies a high bar for meeting the adequacy requirement.

The legislature is expected to address the equity question by the end of the current session. No deadline has been established for the three-judge panel to review the remaining adequacy questions.

Read more:

Education Justice coverage:

State and national news coverage:

The full ruling:

RPM coverage of long-running school finance activity in Kansas:


Read more from the March 2014 Rural Policy Matters.