The attempt by Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature to undermine funding for public schools through a block grant formula has not passed judicial muster.
A three-judge panel from Shawnee County District Court ruled Friday that the new funding plan violates not only a previous Supreme Court judgment but also the state constitution.
It fails to provide enough money for all Kansas students to receive an adequate education, and it promotes inequity among poorer and wealthier school districts, the judges said.
The judges’ sternly worded order directs the state to add about $50 million for school funding in the fiscal year that begins on Wednesday. The administration is nearly certain to ignore that directive. It has already appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
The block grant law departed radically from a funding plan that had been approved by the state Supreme Court. It cut more than $50 million a year in operating and maintenance funds, with poorer school districts bearing the brunt. And it froze the funding levels for the next two budget years.
The judges fortunately were not fooled. “Though promoted as a change and improvement in K-12 funding,” they wrote, the new law amounts to “no more than a freeze” on school districts’ operational funding.
Any apparent increases, they added, stem from a legislative maneuver to add the state’s contribution to teacher pension funds to the block grants, and falsely claim that money as operational funding.
Friday’s ruling is potentially good news for Kansas school children, especially those who are less advantaged. But it also sets the stage for what could be an epic clash among Brownback, the Legislature and the Kansas courts.