Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas Supreme Court takes up adequacy part of school-finance case
By Tim Carpenter
The Kansas Supreme Court peeled back layers of constitutional complexity Wednesday during oral arguments in a school finance lawsuit challenging adequacy of state funding to public education.
Tentacles of the case range across legal, political, budgetary and educational ground, with victory by plaintiff school districts Wichita, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Kansas City, Kan., requiring an estimated $500 million to $800 million expansion of state aid to K-12 schools. Total funding in the current fiscal year is $4 billion.
Plaintiffs prevailed in 2013 after a 16-day trial in Shawnee County District Court, but Attorney General Derek Schmidt appealed.
Attorneys for the state of Kansas and the school districts were instructed by the Supreme Court to argue whether the Legislature violated Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution by drifting from the financial scheme put in place to settle the previous school-finance lawsuit in 2006. On the assumption the state failed to meet its duty, the justices sought discussion by the lawyers of appropriate remedies.
They were also in agreement the Supreme Court should articulate in a ruling boundaries of a judicially acceptable fix, sometimes referred to as a “safe harbor,” for consideration by the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback.
The justices have taken that approach in previous school-finance rulings.
The state’s financial position adds to intrigue in the case.
Tax revenue has failed to live up to expectations since Brownback persuaded the GOP-dominated Legislature to slash personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013.
A large increase in the statewide sales tax rate and other tax adjustments in 2015 failed to eliminate a structural imbalance in the state’s revenue stream.
A substantive increase in school spending to comply with a future Supreme Court order could require top politicians to reconsider the governor’s signature tax policy.
Brownback supports ouster of up to four Supreme Court justices. Five members of the court, including his lone appointee, will be the subject of retention votes on the November general election ballot.