Kansas court orders more state spending on schools
Kansas isn’t spending enough money on its public schools to provide a suitable education for every child, a state district court panel ruled Tuesday.
The three judges’ order could mean the state has to boost its aid to public schools by hundreds of millions of dollars a year. An attempt by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the GOP-dominated Legislature to comply would complicate their efforts to close state budget shortfalls and preserve aggressive personal income tax cuts enacted at Brownback’s urging to boost the economy.
Kansas is currently facing a predicted $279 million budget shortfall by July, with an additional $436 million shortfall to close by July 2016.
The panel did not set a specific figure for what is adequate, but said the evidence suggests it should be at least $548 million more a year, or $4,654 per student in base aid — and possibly much higher.
The state is expected to appeal the Shawnee County District Court panel’s decision to the Kansas Supreme Court.
Parents of more than 30 students and the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts sued the state in 2010 after recession-driven budget problems caused it to back away from promised increases in education funding.
The state constitution says the Legislature must make “suitable provision” for financing public schools. The Kansas Supreme Court has declared in previous rulings that state spending must ensure all children get a suitable education.
Kansas spends $13,269 per student in its public schools, but the figure includes federal funds and local property tax dollars. The state’s own base aid — a figure seen by educators as measuring state dollars for classroom and general administrative expenses — is $3,852 per student.
The base aid figure peaked at $4,433 in 2008, and is now $581, or 13 percent lower — even as the state increased the total dollars it put into schools to $3.4 billion annually, partly because teacher pension costs have risen.
Kansas once promised that base state aid would reach $4,492 per student, costing the state an additional $437 million. The parents and school districts who sued argued that the actual figure should be $6,000 per student — which would boost the state’s annual costs by nearly $1.5 billion.
The state budget gaps arose after Brownback successfully pushed lawmakers to cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013. Kansas cut its top rate by 26 percent and exempted the owners of 191,000 businesses from income taxes altogether, and further cuts are promised.
In January 2013, the same three-judge panel ruled that the state was obligated to boost its annual spending on schools by $440 million a year, but the Kansas Supreme Court said in March 2014 that the judges should have used different legal standards for determining whether funding is adequate.
The higher court also ruled that recession-driven budgeting had created unconstitutional gaps between poor school districts and their wealthier counterparts, and Brownback and legislators responded by boosting aid to the poor districts by $129 million a year. But the Supreme Court ordered the lower-court panel to take another look at whether total funding was adequate.
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