The beginning of summer break for our students (and teachers) is here as children (and teachers) whoop for joy as they anticipate weeks of fun, fun, fun until the next school year begins. Right!? Let’s just hope there will be school to return to! I doubt if it will come to that but, as many of you have been hearing and reading there is a “face-off” between our Kansas legislators and the Kansas Supreme Court over what is constitutional when it comes to school funding. Here is a summary according to KASB (Kansas Association of School Boards) of the latest court ruling and what will need to happen now.
The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday, May 27th ruled the state's so-called equity fix in regards to Local Option Budget aid in the school finance lawsuit is unconstitutional and again gave the Legislature until June 30 to remedy funding for poor districts or the school system would be unable to operate.
The decision raises the possibility of a special legislative session or an extension of the 2016 session, which was scheduled to end Wednesday. In reaction to the Court decision, each side in the long-running dispute pointed fingers at each other.
Gov. Sam Brownback and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, sharply criticized the court as over-reaching, while Alan Rupe, lead attorney for the plaintiff school districts, said if schools close it would be the fault of the Legislature for failing to perform its constitutional duty. Shutting schools this summer would disrupt numerous school programs and possibly delay or drastically alter the start of the upcoming school year.
In February, the Kansas Supreme Court said the school finance law was unconstitutional because it created inequities in funding and tax burden that harmed low wealth districts and their students. In March, the Legislature approved House Bill 2655, which supporters said cured those inequities, while the school districts suing the state said the amount of funding fell short and the law allowed continued unequal tax treatment.
On Friday, the Court said HB 2655 does cure the capital outlay inequities but failed to fix the unconstitutional inequities in the Local Option Budget and supplemental general state aid.
The Court has ruled the Kansas Constitution requires that school districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort. In its decision, the Court said without a constitutionally equitable school finance system, the schools in Kansas cannot operate.
The Court stated "the inability of Kansas schools to operate would not be because this court would have ordered them closed. Rather, it would be because this court would have performed its sworn duty to the people of Kansas under their constitution to review the legislature's enactments and to ensure the legislature's compliance with its own duty," under the Kansas Constitution.
There are many legal issues that would arise should our Kansas Legislators and Court Judges not come to some agreement and close schools for the 2016-17 school year. Even though districts need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, it is now a waiting game to see what move our legislatures will now do to meet the court order. The ball is now in their “court” again.
Brian Cordel, USD223 Superintendent