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From the Wichita Eagle: Kansas Supreme Court rules school funding inadequate

If they don’t, the state will have no constitutional mechanism for funding schools, which could lead to school closures.

The court ruled unanimously that Gov. Sam Brownback’s “block grant” funding system for schools is unconstitutional, siding with school districts that complained it underfunded their operations.

“In effect, it is merely a fund created by freezing school districts’ funding for 2 school years at a prior year’s level,” the court ruling said. “It also is only minimally responsive to financially important changing conditions such as increased enrollment.”

The decision in favor of Wichita and the other school districts could make it more difficult for state lawmakers to fix projected budget deficits of more than $1 billion for the next two and a half years.

Alan Rupe, a lawyer representing Wichita and the other districts, said lawmakers should act quickly to craft a new formula that better serves students’ needs.

“The Kansas Supreme Court has finally confirmed what anyone who has recently stepped inside a Kansas public school already knew: Kansas public education is significantly underfunded,” Rupe said in a statement Thursday.

“The hardest part now awaits,” he said. “It is incumbent upon the Legislature to react to the ruling quickly and in a way that puts the funding levels into constitutional compliance.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt could not be reached for comment early Thursday.

In its ruling, the court said the current level of funding isn’t enough to ensure that all students receive access to the suitable education the state Constitution mandates the Legislature to provide.

“Plaintiffs have shown through the evidence from trial – and through updated results on standardized testing since then – that not only is the State failing to provide approximately one-fourth of all its public school K-12 students with the basic skills of both reading and math, but that it is also leaving behind significant groups of harder-to-educate students,” the ruling said.

The lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court decision was filed by four school districts – Wichita, Hutchinson, Kansas City and Dodge City – but the decision applies to all school districts.