Kansas School Funding Lawsuit
Yesterday the Kansas Supreme Court ruled against the Shawnee Mission district’s attempt to intervene in the Kansas school funding lawsuit filed in 2010 by four plaintiff school districts. The Gannon v. Kansas suit was yet another lawsuit against the state for not meeting Kansas Constitutional requirements to adequately and equitably fund public schools.
During the past 5 years since the suit was filed there have been many attempts to thwart compliance with the law by the legislature, executive branch and the Shawnee Mission school district. Efforts included shifting the state contributions for the public school employee pension payments to school districts to give the appearance of a massive increase in state funding to school districts. There have been legislative attempts to separate the checks and balances between the three branches of government by attempting to legislate the Judicial branch does not have the authority to force the Legislative branch to lawfully comply with increasing state aid to schools should the Gannon case rule in favor of the plaintiff school districts. A few years ago the Shawnee Mission school district attempted, through Federal Court, to enter into the legal battle but was dismissed. They attempted to intervene again but was dismissed by a lower court and the Supreme Court yesterday due to the “untimely” nature of their filing claiming they receive less state aid than the 4 plaintiff school districts.
There are several issues that have created the current funding issues in Kansas. The state is unique in that the population in condensed in a few regional areas. The growth of areas like the Kansas City metro area brings a faster growing tax base and revenues as well as increased costs to educate a growing student population. The state’s funding formula recaptures excess tax revenue and redistributes it to lower assessed valuation school districts to ensure a base state aid per pupil regardless of their zip code. The failed tax income tax elimination plan by the legislature and Governor has compounded the loss of a tax base which has impacted all school districts’ revenue stream. Property wealthy districts, like Shawnee Mission, claim they should have the local control to raise taxes without being capped or restricted due to recapture. The state is so pluralistic that any funding formula that does not ensure a equity and adequacy for all Kansas children would have a tremendous deisparet impact on the quality of life in the communities, business growth and the future earning potential of the students in lower assessed valuation school districts.
The solution is simple and complex. The state must comply with the law and the current, legislatively passed, school funding formula. This will require a major shift in the political approach to elimination of a tax revenue stream (income tax), increasing property taxes and reduction of tax abatement practices. At the same time a non-partisan, broad based and open collaborative process needs to be put in place to research a new funding formula that ensures adequacy and equity for all school children now and into the future. If this is not done there will be more Kansas school funding lawsuits and more children left behind.