© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Education

This Is The Kansas School Funding Court Showdown Everyone Has Been Waiting For

SupremeCourt2015_0.jpeg
Kansas Supreme Court
/

The Kansas Supreme Court will hear two hours of oral arguments Wednesday in the Gannon school funding case.

It's hard to imagine an educator, lawmaker or legislative candidate not sitting on the edge of their seat looking for a clue as to how the justices will rule.

Here are some FAQs on the hearing:

So you're telling me the case is still going? Didn't we just have a big Gannon story not long ago?

We did. The Legislature was called into special session by Gov. Sam Brownback on June 23 to deal with the equity portion of the lawsuit. You'll recall lawmakers passed a bill last session (H.B 2655) that the Supreme Court ruled failed to cure the inequity that existed between wealthy and poorer school districts. But in the special session, there seemed to be a moment of clarity when conservatives, moderates, educators and all stake holders really, got in a room and worked out a deal.

The governor signed the bill four days later. The high  court blessed it the next day. The fix will cost Kansas $38 million.

So what's the latest hearing all about?

This has to do with whether Kansas is spending enough money to provide all students an adequate education. The Supreme Court has found in Article 6 of the state Constitution two things the state must provide for public school students: equity and adequacy. 

The justices decided to split Gannon into its two component parts and handle them at different times. Most believed equity was the easier fix so that part went first. Adequacy is much more complicated and wildly more expensive to fix should the court rule against the state.

Wildly more expensive. How much?

The three judge panel in Shawnee County which heard the evidence suggests it could take $500 million more to provide an adequate education for all students. That ruling was a couple of years ago, so there are some estimates that range up to $800 million. In a state that has rarely met revenue estimates in the past few years, the number is both huge and daunting. Kansas already spends about 51 percent of its General Fund budget on education or about $3.1 billion.

How does Kansas judge whether kids are getting an adequate education?

The state uses something called the Rose factors (sometimes called the Rose standards or Rose capacities.) The name comes from a 1989 Kentucky Supreme Court case. The Rose factors are, well, very general. They talk about outcomes in reading and writing, social studies and government, health, the arts and vocational training. Those factors have also been adopted by the Kansas Legislature. They're 27 years old but the Kansas State Department of Education spent a lot of time defining what they mean. 

Are there politics involved?

This is Kansas, so of course there are politics involved with education.

First, conservatives will be listening closely to the questions asked by four of the justices up for retention this year. That quartet (Carol Beier, Dan Biles, Marla Luckert and Chief Justice Lawton Nuss) has been targeted for their previous school funding rulings as well as for rulings on abortion and the death penalty.

What they ask could end up on political postcards or TV or radio spots.

But school finance is also a huge issue in this year's legislative races. Votes to kill the old school funding formula and replace it with block grants have already cost a lot of conservatives their seats in the Republican primary. About 30 conservatives in the house and senate have competitive races, and how schools are funded and by how much is a big issue in those races.

Nobody expects a high court ruling until after the election.

Can I watch this thing?

Sure can. Click here at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Sam Zeff is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend and covers education for KCUR. Follow Sam on Twitter @SamZeff.

 

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make non-profit journalism available for everyone.