KASB analysis of court hearing on school finance

The state on Tuesday urged the Kansas Supreme Court to keep schools open, accept the new finance law and dismiss the Gannon lawsuit that has gone back and forth between the court and Legislature for eight years. 

Plaintiff school districts, however, argued the new law falls far short of what Kansas students need to succeed, urged an additional $500 million and upwards of $2 billion afterwards, plus inflation, and pleaded with the court to maintain jurisdiction in the case because of past behavior by the state in cutting school funding after the previous Montoy decision. 

The long-awaited showdown before the state Supreme Court was scheduled to take two hours, but ran closer to three hours. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said the court would take the matter under advisement. The court has previously stated it would issue a decision by June 30. 

A ruling against the state could trigger a special legislative session this summer as political campaigns heat up before the Aug. 7 primaries. 

Here is what KASB experts Donna Whiteman, assistant executive director of legal services, and Mark Tallman, associate executive director of advocacy and communications, noticed during the arguments (here is a link to the full KASB Live webinar on the court proceeding): 

— The court is trying to determine if the new law is calculated to have all students meet or exceed the Rose standards and whether students have reasonable access to educational opportunity from similar tax support. What level of student achievement is acceptable?   

— The state argued Kansas is adding $1 billion more for education, getting to Montoy levels of funding adjusted for inflation, but that is going to take five years. “That may be the single biggest problem that they (the state) have to overcome,” Tallman said. 

— Justices expressed frustration over how long the school system has been underfunded. The case was originally filed in 2010 after the state during the Great Recession cut school funding below levels accepted by the court as part of the Montoy lawsuit. 

— The state abandoned the school finance cost study commissioned by legislative leaders, which called for upwards of $2 billion in additional funding. “The state threw their expert witness under the bus,” said Whiteman. Whiteman noted without a cost study to rely on, three justices questioned whether they have enough information before them and talked about possibly remanding the case back to the lower court for more fact-finding. 

— After years of denying that “money matters” in K-12 funding, the state on Tuesday essentially conceded that it does. 

— When asked to dismiss the Gannon case, several justices noted that the court dismissed the Montoy lawsuit and then several years later, the state cut school funding.  

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