Kansas high court rules education funding reductions unconstitutional

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Kansas [official website] on Friday held [opinion, PDF] that the state's legislature violated the Kansas constitution when it underfunded K-12 public education during the 2009 through 2012 school years. The court found that 2009 reductions in funding for public education impeded the school districts' ability to "maintain, develop and operate local public schools," as required by the Kansas constitution. Article 6, Section 6(b) [text] of the state's constitution requires the legislature to "make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state." The legislature began reducing funding [LA Times report] for public education in 2009 in the wake of the 2008 national economic recession. On June 17, 2010 four school districts and 31 students who attend school in those districts and their guardians filed this suit against the state, alleging that the legislature was failing to provide a suitable education to all Kansas students, consider the actual costs of education and distribute education funds equitably. The plaintiffs claimed that the reductions created wealth-based disparities among the state's various school districts. The court did not explicitly state what would constitute constitutionally sufficient funding levels, but rather remanded the case to a district court panel consisting of three judges for further factual inquiry and a reapplication of Kansas precedent with respect to the adequacy of school funding.

Public school funding continues to be a contentious issue in the US. In August 2008 the Chicago Urban League (CUL) filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] insisting that Illinois' current school funding scheme be declared unconstitutional in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. In January 2007 the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in a case evaluating federal funding for public schools. Three New Mexico school districts alleged that the US Department of Education wrongly used an equalization public school funding formula distributing federal funds to public school districts equally, instead of an Impact Aid formula that allocates additional funds for school districts encompassing a significant amount of federal land, such as Indian reservations, that does not generate local tax revenue. In November 2006 the New York State Court of Appeals ruled [JURIST report] that the state must spend $2 billion more per year to provide children in the New York City public school system "a sound basic education" guaranteed by the state constitution. In a 4-2 decision the state's high court embraced as "reasonable" the findings of a commission that recommended spending an additional $1.93 billion per year. The court deferred to the legislature and the governor to set the exact amount of the increase.

 

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