Eagle editorial: State will have to pay on school funding

The Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling on school funding likely just delays the inevitable.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling on school funding likely just delays the inevitable.

Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP legislators are kidding themselves if they think they won’t have to significantly increase state spending in order to adequately fund K-12 education. The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision to send the adequacy determination back to the lower court likely just delayed the inevitable.

The court ruled unanimously last week that the state wasn’t meeting its constitutional duty to equitably fund public education – which could cost the state an additional $119 million per year. But on the larger question of whether total state funding was adequate, the court remanded the case to a three-judge panel.

That panel determined last year that the state was underfunding education by more than $400 million. The Supreme Court said that the panel incorrectly based that determination solely on legislative cost studies and instead needed to focus on an outcomes-based definition of an adequate education.

The Supreme Court adopted the “Rose standard” of adequacy, which is named after a 1985 Kentucky case and has been cited in many other court rulings. The Rose standard says that an adequate education is measured by seven learning capacities for every student, such as “sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization.”

The Supreme Court noted that the Rose standard – which it considers a minimal level – mirrors what the Legislature adopted into Kansas statute in 2005. It ruled that the adequacy requirement is met when the education-financing system “is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the standards set out in Rose and presently codified in K.S.A. 2013 Supp. 72-1127.”

Because the court didn’t dictate a specific spending increase and sent the adequacy determination back to the panel, some lawmakers have claimed that funding is no longer the issue. But it takes funding to meet the outcome standards, and as the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in the Rose case, “money matters.”

Also, the Rose standard is not a new concept. It was discussed at length when the case was presented to the three-judge panel, and the attorneys representing Kansas school districts provided evidence of how the state was failing to meet that standard. In fact, the attorneys plan to argue that the panel doesn’t need to retry the case but need only review the evidence – a process that might only take a few months, not the year or two needed to start over.

One of those attorneys, John Robb of Newton, said the Supreme Court’s ruling means that “we have to go around the block again.” But the journey likely will end up in the same place: with the state having to pay.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee