Kansas Public Schools in Danger of Not Opening for the 2016-2017 School Year

A February 11, 2016, ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court in Gannon v. State of Kansasgave the state until June 30, 2016 to implement an equitable school funding formula. If the state cannot reach that milestone, Kansas public schools will not open for the 2016-2017 school year.

The Supreme Court ruling affirms a Court of Appeals opinion holding that the state had failed to correct constitutional inequities in its school funding system, effectively directing more money to wealthier districts, at the expense of poorer districts by $54 million. InGannon, et al., v. State, 319 P.3d 1196 (2014) (Gannon I), the Kansas Supreme Court held (1) that the state must provide sufficient funds to provide an adequate education to public school students, and (2) that the distribution of funds must not result in wealth-based disparities among districts. The recent ruling deals only with the equity aspect of the case.

In response to Gannon I, the 2015 legislature amended the state's aid formulas, and repealed the School District Finance and Quality Performance Act (SDFQPA), the existing school funding system, for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The legislature replaced SDFQPA with a block grant system known as the Classroom Learning Assuring Student Success Act (CLASS). Initially, a three-judge district court panel found that the state was in compliance with Gannon I. However, upon further review, the panel retracted that finding, and held that the state's response failed to meet both the equity and adequacy requirements of the constitution.

In Gannon I, the Supreme Court found that CLASS simply served to freeze the 2016 and 2017 capital outlay by the state at 2015 levels, and was not a substantial shift in the way funds are allocated for public education. The legislature argues that CLASS is intended to be a short-term solution while it determines how best to finance the state's public schools. But the Court found that, while the state showed that more money was available to school districts, the state failed to show that the increase provided students with equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.

The Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral argument on the adequacy portion of the case this spring. In that portion of the case, plaintiffs assert that the state must add more than $300 million per year to the public school funding formula.