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Judges Say Kan. Legislators Met K-12 Equity Order; Adequacy Question Open

A panel of judges in Kansas has ruled that state lawmakers satisfied an order from the state Supreme Court to make the state's K-12 finance system more equitable when it passed budget legislation earlier this year. But the concurrent legal question of whether state support for schools is adequate won't be answered for some time.

In March, the state's highest court ruled in Gannon v. Kansas, a lawsuit brought against the state by four individuals and 31 districts, that the state was not providing sufficient financial aid to less-wealthy districts. Lawmakers responded in April by approving legislation that provides more aid to poorer school districts, including greater funding for capital projects. (The legislation became controversial for other reasons, in large part because it eliminated due-process rights for teachers, a provision of the bill that's become the subject of a separate legal fight.) 

The justices in the Gannon decision left it up to the state's District Court to determine whether any subsequent legislation satisified the educational-equity issues. On June 11, a District Court panel of judges ruled that the April legislation did indeed satisfy the Gannon ruling with respect to support for poorer districts, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

But there was a second section of the Gannon ruling in March that dealt with overall K-12 funding adequacy. The Supreme Court also left the answer to that question up to the District Court panel. That panel declined to say on June 11 when it would address the adequacy portion of the Gannon ruling, the Capital-Journal reported.

However, the Supreme Court justices have already set the parameters for its lower-court counterparts on this matter—their March ruling said the question of adequacy would have to be judged by the standard of a case from Kentucky, Rose v. Council for Better Education.

As the ever-helpful National Education Access Network explains, the ruling in the Rose case identified seven learning goals as part of a definition of "adequate" education, and that these goals "have served as a touchstone for other courts deciding similar cases ever since." These goals include "sufficient oral and written communication skills," "sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems," and "sufficient understanding of governmental processes."

The Gannon case has been closely watched by groups like the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which linked the case to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education suit that was settled 60 years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court and originated in Kansas. They and others watching the ruling's fallout now have part of the answer they've been looking for, but a big question remains unanswered. 

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