TOPEKA (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the state to increase its spending on public schools, but it didn't say by how much.
The court gave legislators until the end of June to enact a new education funding law.
Many moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature favor rolling back large income tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013 that were championed by the state's conservative governor, Sam Brownback, as a way to stimulate the economy. The state has struggled to balance its budget ever since, and even some GOP voters have come to view the tax-cutting as a bust. The Newton Kansan is contacting the Harvey County contingent and school leaders for reaction.
The justices ruled in a lawsuit filed by four school districts that sued the state in 2010 and argued that legislators were not fulfilling a duty under the state constitution to finance a suitable education for each of the state's 458,000 public school students.
The state spends more than half its tax dollars, or nearly $4.1 billion under the current budget, on aid to its 286 local school districts, for an average of about $8,900 per student. But the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, districts argued that the figure should be about 20 percent higher, boosting annual spending by almost $800 million, or roughly $1,740 per student.
The state Supreme Court didn't set a dollar amount for the funding increase and in fact said in its unsigned decision that it rejects "any litmus test that relies on specific funding levels."
But John Robb, one of the attorneys for the school districts, said that if lawmakers attempt to comply without providing extra money, "it'll fail."
The justices also struck down a 2015 law that junked a per-student formula for distributing the state's aid in favor of "block grants" for the local districts.
The legal disputes over school funding have pitted the seven justices, six of whom were appointed by Democratic or moderate Republican governors, against Brownback and other conservative Republicans controlling the rest of state government.
Past rulings forced lawmakers to increase aid to poor school districts and helped spur an effort in last year's election to oust four of the justices in yes-or-no votes on whether they stayed on the court for another six years. The ouster attempts were unsuccessful, and voters frustrated with the state's budget woes ousted two dozen of Brownback's conservative allies from the Legislature, giving Democrats and GOP moderates more power.