Education

UPDATE: Kansas school finance ruling expected at 3 p.m.

AP

Hundreds of millions of education dollars could be on the line later today when the Kansas Supreme Court issues its decision in the Gannon school finance case.

Lisa Taylor, spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, said the decision will be released about 3 p.m. today.

The decision will rule on whether the state Legislature is meeting its constitutional burden to provide “suitable” funding for public education.

Four school districts – Wichita, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Kansas City – sued the state alleging that the Legislature had underfunded schools.

The case was divided into two parts, ‘adequacy,” dealing with the overall amount of education funding and “equity,” dealing with whether the Legislature has fairly divided money between property wealthy and property-poor districts.

Today’s decision is expected to primarily address whether the Legislature successfully corrected adequacy problems found in the school finance “block grant” system.

A bill passed earlier this year restored much of an older school finance formula that had been abandoned when Gov. Sam Brownback championed block grants to give districts more flexibility in how they spend their state aid.

If the court rejects the new funding formula, lawmakers could be called into a special session later this fall. The justices also could call for changes next year – potentially more funding that could require new tax money to pay for it.

In oral arguments in July, districts suing the state, including Wichita, said the new formula approved by lawmakers in June does not adequately fund education. The state contended it does.

Monday’s ruling is the latest development in a years-long legal dispute over funding. The case, called Gannon v. Kansas, has been going on since November of 2010.

Lawmakers in June passed a package of income tax increases to generate $1.2 billion in revenue over two years. Under the new school funding formula, Kansas is spending an extra $485 million on schools during that same two-year period. The rest of the tax increases are covering other state costs and helping to build a positive budget ending balance.

Earlier this summer, the court ruled it would allow the state’s new funding law to go into effect while justices deliberated, enabling schools to prepare for the beginning of classes.

School finance has been a highly controversial issue in the state for 20 years or more, repeatedly ping-ponging back and forth to the courts and influencing state politics.

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