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Kansas K-12 Funding Unconstitutional, Supreme Court Rules; Orders Review

In a high-profile legal battle over school funding, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state's funding system was unconstitutional because it did not provide equity in public schools, and ordered a lower court to go back and determine proper levels of funding. The supreme court did not set a deadline for this determination, however. 

Plaintiffs in Gannon v. Kansas have sought major boosts to school funding on the order of $440 million in additional annual funding. The state's highest court did not order any specific increase in K-12 funding in its March 7 ruling. But it did require a state disrict court panel to make sure that inequities in the current funding system are changed. It also required legislators to restore funding to two programs aimed at providing additional aid to relatively poor districts, the Associated Press reported.

"[T]he State failed to meet its duty to provide equity in public education as required under Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution," the ruling read in its conclusion, upholding the view of the District Court of Shawnee County in Kansas.

Friends of the plaintiffs were pleased with the ruling. In a statement, Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said, "Today's ruling reaffirms the promise made in the case of Topeka's Brown v. Board of Education decision and in the Kansas Constitution: that all students share equally in the benefits of a quality public education."

He then called upon Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and state legislators to "fully and equitably" fund schools in the state. 

The Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit grew out of a previous K-12 funding case in Kansas from five years ago. In 2005, the state supreme court ruled in Montoy v. Kansas that the state had underfunded public schools.

The state legislature subsequently agreed to increase funding to meet the requirements of the court's ruling, beginning in 2006. But the plaintiffs in Gannon (who filed suit in 2010) allege that Kansas reneged on its promise when it instituted steep state budget cuts that began in 2009 in the wake of the recession.

In the fiscal 2014 budget, the Kansas government is providing $1.9 billion to public schools, although that figure doesn't include any money stemming from the Montoy settlement.

The state, however, argued in Gannon that the Kansas Constitution did not give courts and districts the power to trump legislators' discretion over school-funding levels. Kansas Solicitor General Stephen R. McAllister told the supreme court that dramatically boosting K-12 funding would hurt the rest of the state's budget.

The District Court of Shawnee County in Kansas ruled last year in favor of the plaintiffs in Gannon.

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