Legislators want to know how much the school finance ruling will cost

Legislators returning Monday from their session break resumed work with one major question — how much will it cost to satisfy last week’s Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state is not providing adequate funding for schools?

The answer: The court did not specify an exact amount although it discussed earlier proposals from previous studies and court rulings.

John Robb, an attorney representing plaintiff school districts, said the state needs to provide about $800 million more to schools.

After a 2005 court decision, base state aid funding increased to $4,433 per student in 2009 but then the state started making cuts during the Great Recession. Over the past two years, school funding has basically been frozen under the block grant system, which the court has declared unconstitutional.

Now base state aid is $3,852 per pupil. It would take $372 million to increase that to $4,400 per pupil, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said. If inflation was added, a total increase of $700 million would be required, Dennis told the House Appropriations Committee.

In last week’s unanimous decision, the court cited statistics that showed nearly one half of African-American students; more than one third of Hispanic students and more than one third of students receiving free or reduced lunch are not proficient in reading and math, which the court called “subjects at the heart of an adequate education.”

The court stated: “Accordingly, we conclude the state’s public education financing system, through its structure and implementation, is not reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the minimum constitutional standards of adequacy.”

The justices gave the Legislature until June 30 to devise a new finance system and show that it will address the constitutional violations. If the Legislature fails to accomplish this task then the state’s education financing system “is constitutionally invalid and therefore void,” the court said.

Appropriations member Rep. Henry Helgerson, D-Wichita, said he was concerned over whether schools could efficiently handle a large increase in funding. Dennis said the court has previously allowed increases to be phased in over several years.

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