Kansas Supreme Court to rule on most recent school finance bill

Alexis Simmons

A busy and exciting day for all three governing bodies in the State of Kansas is coming. The Kansas Supreme Court will rule on the education finance bill that passed through the Legislature this spring, HB2741. 

The school finance debate has been a point of contention in the state since 2010 when Gannon v. State of Kansas was first filed. A group of school districts filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming education in Kansas was underfunded and violated the state constitution by not providing a “suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.”

In short, the original school finance bill was found unconstitutional because the Legislature had failed to solve the problem of equity between rich and poor districts.

Earlier this year in February, the court announced that the Legislature had to pass a new school funding bill by June 30, 2016. If the legislators failed to do so, the court would prevent schools from opening in the fall.

Serious disdain for the court has been building in the Legislature due to some previous rulings. Some hoped that by providing a serious ultimatum, the Legislature would be forced to comply with the court ruling.

HB2741 proposed a school funding formula that gave parents the ability to put tax money toward their children’s private education. It also prevented schools from spending state aid money on extracurricular activities. The bill was passed shortly before the veto session, which is a month-long recess for legislators.  

The bill gave parents the ability to put 70 percent of their student’s per-pupil state aid toward private, religious, or home school tuition. This money would otherwise have gone to the school district. Essentially all students would qualify to take part in this provision.

A stated problem with this formula is that school districts would not have a concrete number in their budget, some say up to $1 billion would be unsecured. Kansas currently spends $2.962 billion from its general fund on public K-12 education. 

Some issues of constitutionality have come up because of the managing body of government; the State Treasurer would be in charge of the parents’ accounts rather than the Education Department, which some claim to be an issue because the State Treasurer does not have any training in education administration. 

If the Kansas Supreme Court finds this bill to be unconstitutional, the legislators will once again go back to the drawing board. It is also possible the court could issue a more specific mandate with specific amounts of money for the Legislature to come up with per district. If no solution is found on the side of the Legislature, the courts have said they will prevent schools from opening in the fall.