Both sides of school-funding debate weigh in on court decision

New guidance from the Kansas Supreme Court Monday addresses how the state should fund public schools.

In a 39-page decision, the court told legislators once again to go back to the drawing board.

The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the state's spending on public schools remains inadequate despite an increase approved earlier this year, but gave the state another year to come up with more funding.

It says the latest plan that increases funding by $548 million is equitable for students across Kansas, but the funding levels aren't enough.

Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer Monday says despite the court's ruling, the legislature is on the right track.

"Schools will stay open, They found that the 2018 school year is in good shape and that there are going to be some adjustments they'll need to make. But I'm very confident the legislature will be able to do that," Colyer says.

People on all sides of the issue weighed in on the supreme court's decision following Monday's announcement.

"The good news about this is at least we have a decision so we can move forward with out budgets for this coming year," USD 261 (Haysville school district) Superintendent John Burke says. "The bad news is that they're allowing the legislature to kick this matter down -- this can down the road one more year."

Form some school administrators, that means another year with less to work with.

For teachers, the decision is a starting point to begin salary negotiations, but for many, the future of funding for Kansas' public school system is still anything but certain.

"I have zero confidence in the leadership of the majority party working with others within their party and within the minority party to solve this problem," says Steve Wentz, president of the United Teachers of Wichita. "I think it's going to take a change of leadership, or a huge wakeup call to these individuals in the primaries that the majority of Kansans are pragmatic people who support public education regardless of the party affiliation."

Two problems the court addressed in its ruling specifically revolve around inflation through the upcoming school year, as well as failure to adjust for the five-year period that the legislative plan proposed to increase school funding.

"They need to adjust some of what they did to account for inflation, and when they do that they'll be at the point the Kansas Supreme Court recognizes it's constitutional," says Alan Rupe, attorney for plaintiffs in the school-funding battle.

Conservative leaders including Kansas Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach say school-funding decisions should be made by Kansas voters, not by non-elected judges.

"The business of funding schools belongs with the representatives of the people--not seven, unelected judges," Kobach says. "The Kansas Supreme Court's Gannon decision today illustrates how the Court is now micromanaging every dollar spent on education even down to calculating adjustments for inflation."

Kobach says lawmakers should pass a Constitutional amendment "to end more than two decades of school-finance lawsuits."

"The Court is acting in a matter that is far outside of its judicial role. The time has come for a constitutional amendment making clear the judiciary of Kansas may not determine education spending amounts," Kobach said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Svaty emphasized his focus to bring stability to the school-funding issue in Kansas and complying with the court's ruling.

Laura Kelly, also a Democratic candidate for governor, says she too supports the court's decision.

“We all know that schools are the key to a strong economy and a bright future for our state," Kelly says. When our children succeed, our state succeeds."

Colyer says in the end, the state needs to see outcomes for its public-school students and he's confident in the legislature's ability to solve remaining issues in the school-funding debate.

In the end we need outcomes for our students, and that's what I insisted in the bill in that over the next few years we make sure that we have accreditation tied to outcomes for our kids. The court has ruled that the financing mechanism for achieving that is equitable and meets their standard.