A three-judge panel in Shawnee County says state spending on K-12 public schools in Kansas is unconstitutionally low. The judges call the current funding level "inadequate from any rational perspective.” This is the latest ruling in years of legal wrangling over education. KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports.
Santa Fe Trail School District is part of the organization that originally brought this suit. The judges say cuts to funding sources -like the base state aid per pupil- have harmed education in Kansas at places like Santa Fe Trail, and the district’s superintendent Steve Pegram (PEE-gram) agrees.
“Because in the past, we had resources available to work with our at-risk students, to enhance programs and address those students that were struggling. Currently, we give the minimum. We have very few at-risk programs still left,” says Pegram.
The court calls the state’s funding problems “self-imposed.” Pegram says schools faced classroom funding cuts during the recession, like all government did.
“And when the recession was finally over, there was an option of what the state could do: put that money back into education or do other things. The Legislature decided to do other things,” says Pegram.
One of those “other things” would be tax cuts.
The judges specifically say they aren’t telling lawmakers how much to spend. But they say the funding levels were adequate in 2009, when the base state aid per pupil was higher.
Dave Trabert (TRAW-bert), with the free-market, low-tax think tank the Kansas Policy Institute, says that’s a thinly veiled bill for a specific amount.
“They’re trying to pretend they’re not telling the Legislature what to spend. But they’re absolutely telling the Legislature the minimum they need to spend, which would be another $548 million,” says Trabert.
Trabert also criticized the ruling for not focusing more on outcomes. The court was ordered to determine if current funding levels are allowing students to meet certain outcomes.
Trabert says the court focused too much on certain funding sources.
“Education is supposed to be about how do we make a better educational opportunity and outcome for the students. Instead, they focused just on the money,” says Trabert.
Democrats in the Legislature are hailing the decision as proof that the current school funding formula is good, it just needs to be properly funded.
Republican Governor Sam Brownback and House Speaker Ray Merrick say they’re studying the decision and it may be time to rewrite the Kansas school funding formula.
It’s almost a certainty that the district court’s decision will be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.