TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ Republican attorney general asked the state’s highest court to reward the GOP-controlled Legislature for following through on a decade’s worth of court-mandated education funding increases by making it harder for local school districts to force higher spending in the future.
Attorney General Kris Kobach’s office wants the Kansas Supreme Court to close a lawsuit that four school districts filed against the state in 2010. The request was filed Wednesday by Tony Powell, a former state Court of Appeals judge who now serves as Kobach’s solicitor general.
The state Supreme Court issued seven rulings from 2013 through 2019 requiring the Legislature to increase funding for public schools and to make its formula for distributing its funds fairer to poorer areas of the state. The justices said in 2019 that the Legislature had complied with their directives, but they kept the case open to ensure that lawmakers fulfilled their promises.
The state expects to provide $4.9 billion in aid to its 286 local school districts during the current school year, which would be about 39% more than the $3.5 billion it provided for the 2013-14 school year. Powell noted that the court approved a plan four years ago to phase in a series of funding increases through the previous school year and wrote that “all funding has been phased in successfully.”
Kansas has been in and out of school funding lawsuits for several decades, with lawmakers promising increases in spending and then backing off when the economy soured and state revenues became tight.
With the lawsuit still open and in the state Supreme Court’s hands, the school districts can go directly to the justices each year if they don’t believe lawmakers have provided enough money. If the case were closed, districts would have to file a new lawsuit in district court that likely would take several years to reach the state Supreme Court.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly opposes Kobach’s request. Spokesperson Brianna Johnson described it as an “attempt to allow the Legislature to remove funding from our public schools.” She also noted that it came the same week that state education officials reported improvements in scores on standardized exams, including the best math scores since 2017.
She said, “It makes no sense to undo all the progress.”
The state constitution says lawmakers “shall make suitable provision for finance” of the state’s “educational interests.” The state Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the language requires legislators to provide enough money and distribute it fairly enough to finance a suitable education for every child.