Kansas must increase its spending on elementary and secondary education to comply with state law, a three-judge panel ruled Friday in a rebuke to lawmakers who said cuts to per-pupil spending were unavoidable because of the recession.
Parents and school districts had argued the state's funding was unconstitutional, saying the state has failed to live up to its promises to increase school funding as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2006. They say schools have had to make cuts that have hurt student achievement.
Friday's 245-page ruling from Shawnee County District Court has already triggered a planned appeal by the Kansas Attorney General's Office. It's unclear how quickly the Kansas Supreme Court would hear the case.
It took the three-judge district court panel two years to hear and rule on the case.
In the ruling, the judges barred lawmakers from making further cuts to per-pupil spending. But the ruling also acknowledged the state would likely appeal its findings.
The Shawnee County District Court judges said the spending cuts in recent legislative sessions caused an "unconstitutional eroding" of education funding. They ordered the state to reverse those declines effective with the 2014 budget, which begins July 1, which would raise the base aid per student to $4,492 as required by law. The current level is $3,783 and was set by legislators in May 2012 based on available state revenues.
The lawsuit was filed in 2010 by attorneys John Robb and Alan Rupe, who are representing students and school districts, including Dodge City, Hutchinson, Kansas City and Wichita. They argued that despite the 2006 Supreme Court order, achievement gaps remained, dropout levels are high and students in general are completing school "with less opportunity and less education than the generation before."
David Smith, spokesman for the Kansas City, KS, School District, said his district was struggling to educate students on the money they receive from the state.
"It was getting to the point where we couldn't educate kids well," he said.
The judge found that the state cut districts about $700 per pupil, violating a constitutional funding minimum.
"The state has an obligation to fund schools properly. It's not meeting that obligation, and now we expect the Legislature is going to do its job and fund schools appropriately," Smith said.
Implementing the increase is likely months away.
The Shawnee Mission School District responded to the ruling in a written statement:
School funding has been an overriding concern for the Shawnee Mission School District for many years. While the Shawnee Mission School District was not a party to this lawsuit and we have not had an opportunity to carefully review this court decision, it appears the judges' ruling supports increased funding for schools. Since 2009, the Shawnee Mission School District has incurred an approximate $550 per student reduction in funding from the state. This reduction equates to more than $18 million in state revenue. As a result, our school district has had to adjust programs, make significant workforce reductions, and increase allowable fees. District officials will be reviewing the court's ruling to determine potential impact, and we are aware that the decision will likely be appealed. Any final determination may not be known until an appeal is heard.
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