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KS High Court Says School Funding Unconstitutional, Threatens Shutdown

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on June 01, 2016 6:58 AM

Parents in Kansas have reason to fear for the future of their children's education: there may be no public schools open at the end of summer vacation. The state's Supreme Court today ruled that the legislature had not abided by its constitutional mandate to finance public schools equitably, especially poorer districts with less property wealth, and gave authorities an ultimatum.

The court gave the state a deadline -- until June 30 -- to fix the funding issues or face a total shutdown, demanding $40 million or more be added to the public education budget. The court's demand is worrisome to managers of other public programs who are afraid they will face more cuts as a result, reports The New York Times. Meanwhile, Governor Sam Brownback's office insists school budgets are sufficient and that he is committed to public education.

Rising Costs

In February of this year the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the allocation of funds to poorer public school districts changed by April. The fix was made but did not suffice for the court and today it ruled that the funding is unconstitutionally inequitable. The court is concerned that the poorest students disproportionately suffer from the allocations as they are now.

The Governor's office says that Brownback has increased funding for education and given local authorities more power to make decisions. "Since taking office, Governor Brownback has increased state funding to schools every year, investing more than $4 billion -- approximately half of the state's budget -- in K-12 funding," said Eileen Hawley, a spokeswoman for the governor. "At the same time," Hawley continued, "he has returned more local control to those closest to the classroom -- teachers and parents -- so they have more direct control over how funds are spent to benefit students."

But local authorities say that the state is failing to consider rising costs when it makes these calculations and statements. Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards explained. "Since the Great Recession, when you adjust for inflation, total school funding in Kansas has been basically flat," he said.

The Deadline

Now the governor and legislators have about 30 days to work out the allocations to the satisfaction of the court, or face the threatened shutdown. Parents and teachers alike have expressed concern and dismay over the situation state educators find themselves in today. Cynthia Lane, the superintendent of schools in the Kansas City district told reporters, "Folks are really frustrated and embarrassed that Kansas is the butt of jokes across the nation."

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