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Kansas Supreme Court Strikes Down State's Latest K-12 Funding Formula

Kansas' State Supreme Court Monday described as unconstitutional the legislature's attempt this year to overhaul the state's school funding formula.  

The court said in a much-anticipated ruling that the state's $293 million spending increase after an earlier ruling failed to provide its students with an "adequate" public education. The state's legislature now has until July 2018 to come up with a new funding formula, according to the ruling. The state is spending close to $4.3 billion on K-12 in the current fiscal year.

The legislature, already dealing with a series of spending cuts after a years-long revenue shortfall, will now have to figure out how to raise more money to spend on its public schools. Legislators have been reluctant to raise taxes, though a growing chorus of teachers and parents in the state have pushed for more spending on schools.  

The state's latest school funding formula, approved in the waning days of the legislature's session this year, more closely dictated how schools should spend their money, cracked down on academically-wayward schools, and expanded the use of all-day kindergarten and vouchers. The state's attorney general said the spending methods would dramatically improve educational outcomes and that the court should be patient to see how effective the funding formula was.  

But lawyers for the four districts that originally sued the state said districts should be given more flexibility in spending and that nothing less than $893 million—a number based on an earlier ruling by the state's high court — would satisfy the court's earlier ruling or help districts close its achievement gap.  

Almost a quarter of the state's students don't meet basic reading and writing standards.  

The ruling will likely amp up an ongoing and closely-watched battle between the state's ultra-conservative legislature and the appointed supreme court over who should decide how to spend money on public schools and how to close an achievement gap between the state's wealthier, white students and its poor and minority students.

Earlier last year, the court said the state's distribution methods between rich and poor schools was inequitable and that the court would shut down the schools if the legislature didn't make timely changes. That led to dramatic changes in the distribution methods.

The state's legislature has said in the past that the court is out of its lane to tell legislatures how to spend. As in previous rulings, the court Monday ruled the funding formula unconstitutional, but did not tell the state how much to spend or what to spend the money on. It also did not give much clues as to how the state should work to improve its schools.

A political effort to unseat the judges and change the language of the state's constitution in 2016 failed.


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