School funding back in lawmakers’ laps

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Monday’s ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that called the state’s school funding formula inadequate and inequitable wasn’t much of a shock. Neither was its decision to give the Legislature another chance to fix it in 2018.

But in ensuring that the Gannon case will make it to a ninth year, the court’s message for lawmakers was clear: One more chance. Move quickly. Show your work and create bigger fixes.

By April 30 next year, lawmakers must have a plan to present the court. The legislative session can’t wait until its final weeks before school funding is addressed.

The job for lawmakers remains the same: Put more money into school funding and create a fairer way to distribute state funding so students in poor districts have the same educational opportunities as students in wealthier districts.

Lawmakers made strides in the spring with $291 million in new funding, the court wrote. Just strides.

Next time, the court wants to see how lawmakers arrived at a formula. It wants to see options that were considered but not adopted. And if it’s not approved, the court said it will no longer be “complicit actors” in an inadequate funding plan.

The Legislature hoped to satisfy the court by approving tax increases of roughly $1.2 billion, which gave an extra $194 million in funding to schools this year and another $97 million in 2018-19.

It was lawmakers’ attempt to get school funding back in line with a formula ditched in 2015 for a series of block grants that froze funding for two years. Lawmakers failed in creating a new formula in that time.

The Supreme Court said it still wasn’t enough. “We decline to allow inadequacy to keep cutting its swath,” the ruling said.

A more moderate Legislature, which approved the spring’s tax increase, will take it up again. The court didn’t put a total on a winning formula.

More tax increases and cuts in other spending will have to be considered, though Senate GOP leadership said raising taxes again “is not going to happen.” The pains felt in the spring by restoring tax cuts will return, only this time more acute and presumably with Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer in charge.