Gannon school funding litigation – a summary of decisions and KPI responses

David DorseyEducation

The recent Supreme Court decision that ordered the Legislature to address what the Court considers inequities in education funding is the latest in a series of court decisions since the Gannon lawsuit was filed during the waning days of the Sebelius/Parkinson administration in November of 2010. The following is a chronological capsulized summary of those decisions and KPI’s reactions. (A timeline of the decisions, published by the Kansas Legislative Research Department is available here.)

January 2013. The district court rules K-12 funding is unconstitutional, both in terms of adequacy and equity.

  • KPI response: Dave Trabert responded by stating the court order of an additional $597 million violated the constitution since only the Legislature is charged with appropriating tax dollars. The court only looked at base state aid per pupil, overlooking weightings and other factors in education funding.

March 2014. Kansas Supreme Court upholds the trial court ruling regarding equity, but determines the trial court did not apply the correct standard for adequacy. Court remands the adequacy portion of Gannon back to district court with instructions to apply the Rose standards.

  • KPI response: Former House Speaker and CEO of Kansas State Chamber of Commerce, Mike O’Neal, in a guest opinion, noted it was a positive that “the Court took a step back and viewed the issue of school funding from the standpoint of the bigger picture, rather than from the aspect of a single purported cost study, as was the case in Montoy.” Dave Trabert wrote that the “Court upheld what we have constantly maintained – education is about outcomes rather than money.” But he cautioned that “the Supreme Court ruling also raises some interesting questions on how adequacy will be determined.” I wrote in this piece that from a teacher’s perspective the amount of money given to education does not have an impact on student outcomes, only systemic changes will improve achievement.

June 2014. District court determines state is in substantial compliance with respect to equity. This decision was a response to the 2014 Senate Sub for HB 2506 which appropriated an additional $109.3 million in equalization aid. The district court’s decision regarding adequacy was to follow.

December 2014. District court finds finance system was inadequate to meet Rose standards.

  • KPI response: In this article, Dave Trabert criticized the district court decision for ignoring the Supreme Court’s remand on measuring adequacy, saying “they made what amounts to a political decision that says the Legislature must increase funding by at least $548 million to meet the Rose standards even though school districts don’t know how to measure those standards.” Further, the amount was based on “a 2001 cost study [Augenblick & Meyers] that is known to have been deliberately skewed to produce inflated costs.” In this piece, I took issue with the decision because the court relied on testimony that used cherry-picked data to determine that an increase in funding leads to higher student outcomes.

June 2015. District court finds K-12 funding unconstitutionally inadequate and inequitable; Supreme Court stays the district court decision pending resolution of equity portion.

  • KPI response:  This KPI post pointed out that the district court ignored facts and the Supreme Court in this decision. Specifically, the court was in “full defiance of at least two Supreme Court findings: (1) cost studies are estimates, not certainties, and (2) all funding sources should be considered.”

February 2016. Supreme Court determines 2015 House Sub for SB 7 fails to cure inequities and orders legislature to find a solution by June 30, 2016 under the threat of closing schools.

  • KPI response: In this lengthy, comprehensive response, former House Speaker Mike O’Neal detailed how the Supreme Court overstepped its constitutional bounds by usurping Legislative authority, and the implications of doing so. “These glaring inconsistencies, resulting in the trampling of the Constitution and the separation of powers doctrine, are hypocritical at best and the epitome of judicial arrogance at worst. Following the Court’s own admonition, the Legislature must oppose encroachments by another branch, just as the Court has done only recently.” KPI issued this scathing press release, again accusing the Court of playing politics with its threat of closing schools. However, it pointed out that “the Court gave the Legislature an opportunity to create a new method of distributing capital outlay and supplemental general state aid that meets constitutional equity requirements without necessarily spending more money.”

May 2016. Supreme Court determines 2016 Senate Sub for HB 2655 did not cure LOB inequities and gives the Legislature until June 30, 2016 to resolve those inequities under threat of school closure.

  • KPI response: Dave Trabert wrote that the Supreme Court defied the constitution in this decision, stating “there is nothing in the state constitution that empowers any court to order schools closed.  To the contrary, the Court has found that the constitution guarantees students certain educational rights, so closing schools would deprive students of such rights and thereby violate the constitution.”  The article also mentions that the school closure threat is not over an increase in school funding, but over the distribution of less than 1% of total funding. Ultimately, their decision is an attempt to exert themselves as the “dominant branch of government.” In this plea to keep the schools open, Trabert calls on the governor to call a special session (which Governor Brownback did) to take action that will keep the needs of students first.
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