Thursday the Kansas Supreme Court rendered a decision — another important decision in the world of education.
It upheld the decision of a lower court that the current funding mechanism used by the Kansas Legislature does not meet constitutional muster. The court called the funding inadequate.
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 court agreed that funding should be higher and must change, however, did not provide a number for how much the state should be spending. In the decision, the court actually rejected "any litmus test that relies on specific funding levels."
It was the right decision. The court is charged with deciding if the law complies with the constitution. Ultimately, the court's decision is not about how much money is spent — but how. The court has said the state is not providing a fair and equal opportunity for all students regardless of ethnicity, economic status or zip code.
The Legislature now has a deadline of June 30 to create a funding mechanism, and set a funding level, to comply with the court decision.
We have been here before. More than once. A year ago, the state was within days of having the schools shut down because of a similar ruling. Schools and the Legislature have battled in the courts for what feels like forever. It should be noted, schools are undefeated. This cycle of litigation can be ended. However, that will mean the Legislature — and in turn Gov. Sam Brownback — complying with the court finding and not reneging on the deal (which is exactly what put the state in this position again).
Legislators will meet again next week. They need to talk about this decision, and create a plan that will satisfy the constitutional duty of the state. They need to not beat their chests and bemoan "activist judges." Instead, they need to hear the message of the judicial branch. The legislature has lost more than a dozen times. It is time to comply and move forward.
— Kansan Editorial Board