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Kansas Legislature Redistributes K-12 Funding to Answer Court Order

In response to a state Supreme Court ruling last month that deemed the state's funding formula inequitable, Kansas' legislature has passed a bill that redistributes education funding and increases state spending by $2 million for its poor districts, according to the Kansas City Star. It does not result in any funding loss for the state's wealthier districts. 

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is soon expected to sign the bill, passed March 24.  

The court said in its Gannon v. State of Kansas ruling last month that districts with a large concentration of poor students collectively would need at least $54 million in additional state funding to make the Kansas school system more equitable. If the legislature doesn't provide a sufficient answer by June 30, the court would shut the state's entire school system down.  

Legislators seemed confident that their revision of the state's education formula—which doesn't raise taxes—should satisfy the court. The court is expected to rule on the legislature's new funding formula in the coming months.  

"I believe what's before us meets constitutional muster," Sen. Terry Bruce, a Republican and the Senate majority leader, told the Kansas City Star.  

It's difficult to tell exactly how redistributing the state's education funding and adding just $2 million without taking any money away from wealthy districts could satisfy the court's ruling. Several plaintiffs and education advocates in the state complained that the proposal fell far short of the court's ruling. 

As of Monday, three Democrats in the state's house had filed a formal protest to the legislation, according to the Witchita Eagle. In the protest, a provision allowed under the state's constitution, the Democrats argued that the proposal was tucked in a shell bill and rushed through the legislature, denying the house an opportunity to hold a full debate. The protest makes public to the state supreme court arguments against the legislation. 

"It is a freeze of equalization payments at the current levels accomplished through the artifice of a 'hold harmless' provision that benefits wealthier school districts at the expense of poorer districts," the protest said. "The bill also violates the constitutional requirement of equity by expanding Local Option Budget (LOB) authority only for districts wealthy enough to afford local property tax increases."

Last month I spoke with Shelly Kiblinger, the superintendent of the Hutchinson school district, which is a plaintiff in the Gannon lawsuit. Kiblinger said board had to raise the district's local property tax to provide teachers their first raise in years.That cost, the high court decided this month, lies with the state, not local taxpayers.

"There are essential things our kids are doing without," said Kiblinger. 

The state has faced a multimillion-dollar budget deficit because of a series of untimely tax breaks over the last three years. The court is expected to rule on an adequacy part of the lawsuit, which could cost the state millions more in the coming years.  

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