Kansas Lawsuit Filed

Last Updated: November 26, 2010

This article appeared in the November 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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As anticipated, a coalition of school districts has filed a new funding lawsuit, Gannon et al v. State of Kansas. The plaintiff group, Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF), now includes 63 districts in the state, many in rural areas.

Schools initially benefitted from the ruling in the last school finance case, Montoy v. Kansas. But in ensuing years, hundreds of millions of dollars have been cut from school budgets. (RSFN has followed the litigation plans closely over the past year; see coverage beginning in October 2009).

SFFF plaintiffs in the case, Gannon v. Kansas, allege, among other claims, that the state is violating the Kansas Constitution by underfunding education and depriving Kansas students of their fundamental right to an education.

The lawsuit further alleges that funding is neither equitably distributed, nor distributed based on a cost determination of what it takes to provide an adequate education. In addition, the plaintiffs claim that the effect of funding cuts is harsher in districts with the most challenging student populations and that underfunding leads to reduced academic achievement and to increases in the dropout rate and school violence.

In accordance with a new state law passed on the disposition of school funding lawsuits, a panel of three state district court judges has been appointed to oversee the case.

The state is facing a $50 million shortfall in this year’s budget, a circumstance school leaders say is caused by a decrease in property valuations and an increase in the number of students eligible for free and reduced price meals.

Legislative leaders have said that the court will have to consider the economic downturn when it takes up the case.

The case, which will not likely be heard by the Kansas Supreme Court for several years, could be rendered moot if additional funding is allocated or the formula changed in the meantime.

Retiring U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, who won the governor’s seat earlier this month, suggested during the his campaign that he thinks school funding should be based largely on local property taxes, as was the case before the Montoy ruling found the system unconstitutional. Brownback has also promised to freeze state spending, which is also contradictory to Montoy directives.

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Read more from the November 2010 Rural Policy Matters.