Trial Date in Kansas School Funding Suit Looms Large

Last Updated: March 30, 2012

This article appeared in the March 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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For several months, Sunflower State residents have heard about Governor Sam Brownback’s plans to overhaul the state’s school funding formula which include major changes in both how monies for schools are collected and how they are distributed. (See previous RSFN coverage here.) The governor has said publicly that he hopes his changes will settle issues of underfunding in the state, and remove any basis for the suit.

But an attorney for the plaintiff districts says Brownback is attempting an “end run” around the process of actually determining education costs in the state. John Robb, one of the attorneys representing the districts in the Gannon finance case, says that the funding formula is not the problem for schools. He and other public school supporters point out that the cuts made since the final Montoy school finance decision in 2006 have placed the state in violation of the constitution.

In that decision, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the state to follow a three-year funding plan that reflected education costs as measured by a study commissioned by the Kansas Legislature. However, in ensuing years, hundreds of millions of dollars have been cut from school budgets.

This year, there has been a bipartisan effort in the state senate to increase school funding by as much as $50 million next year using the current formula. Per pupil, that would mean an additional $74. Rural schools and students have taken part in lobbying for the increase, and advocates on this issue point out that significant staffing and program cuts have resulted from the long series of annual budget cuts. Rural districts hoped that at least a portion of the additional funding would be provided through “equalization programs” which help to offset relative local wealth, but that provision did not survive the legislative crossover process.

Notably, the Brownback proposal, currently pending in the Senate — stalled, but not dead for the session — would remove property tax caps and the weighting factors in the current formula for various school district factors such as poverty and the number of English Language Learners, for example. (Editor’s note: For a more detailed explanation about weighting factors, see our earlier RSFN series here.) School district stakeholders have pointed out that overreliance on local property tax revenues was a major contributor to the inequity which precipitated the Montoy suit initially.

Also, again this session, litigation detractors in the Kansas House proposed a constitutional amendment which would have prevented state courts from ordering the legislature to increase funding for public schools. That legislation failed by a close margin after winning a preliminary floor vote the previous day.

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Comments on lawsuit:

Coverage on legislative work on school finance:

Read the legislation here:

Coverage on proposed constitutional amendment:

Website of a Kansas rural district coalition working at the Statehouse:


Read more from the March 2012 Rural Policy Matters.