The Kansas Supreme Court this morning issued its long-awaited ruling in the Gannon case, which challenged whether the state is adequately funding public schools, by sending that question back to lower court with a new guidance on what “adequacy” means for school funding.
The court did find that the state “failed to meet its duty to provide equity in public education” required by the Kansas Constitution. That finding revolved around two issues: equalization payments from capital outlay and from local option budget funds. When the legislature stopped making certain equalization payments to districts with lower property values, that created an inequity.
“Neither one has an impact on Shawnee Mission,” Superintendent Jim Hinson said after the ruling was issued. Because of its high assessed valuation, the district does not receive any equalization funding. One of the remedies to fix the local option inequity could affect the district. That remedy is to disable the option budget mechanism which could mean a $55 million loss. “That would have a dramatic impact on Shawnee Mission,” Hinson said.
Both equity and adequacy are components of deciding if the state is meeting its constitutional obligation, it ruled. In remanding the adequacy question back for review, the court incorporated a new set of standards – labeled the “Rose” standards after another court case. The standards revolve around areas of learning, such as “development of sufficient oral and written communication skills.”
The guidance for the lower court to use the set of standards is different from the cost study method used previously. The court ruled: “The panel shall promptly make findings as appropriate, consider whatever evidence it deems relevant—whether presently in the record or after reopening—and apply the adequacy test articulated in this opinion. More specifically, the panel must assess whether the public education financing system provided by the legislature for grades K-12—through structure and implementation—is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the standards set out in Rose v. Council for Better Educ., Inc., 790 S.W.2d 186 (Ky. 1989), and as presently codified in K.S.A. 2013 Supp. 72-1127.”
“We’re still in limbo,” Hinson said. “It’s frustrating.” Only knowing part of the answer to the suit makes it difficult to budget for the future, he said. “The decision today just elongates the process. (The court) didn’t deal with adequacy at all.” Hinson reiterated his belief that districts should be allowed to locally raise money above any state minimum standard if voters approve.
The ruling also suggested federal money and pension funding can be considered in its determinations. However, it added, “regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy.”
The court clearly established that it has a role in determining if the standards for an adequate education have been met. “Just as only the people of Kansas have the authority to change the standards in their constitution, the Supreme Court of Kansas has the final authority to determine adherence to the standards of the people’s constitution.”
The ruling gives the legislature options and deadlines for resolving the equality issue, but does not impose a timeline for the lower court to rule on adequacy.