Alan Rupe, Jessica Skladzien Get Kansas Supreme Court Victory

Kansas Partners Alan L. Rupe and Jessica Skladzien recently convinced the Kansas Supreme Court to find that the state of Kansas has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to properly fund education in Kansas. To comply with this momentous ruling, the state is required to immediately increase education funding by an estimated $800 million per year.

In its unanimous decision, the Kansas Supreme Court noted that the achievement data showed that “not only is the state failing to provide approximately one-fourth of all its public school K-12 students with the basic skills of both reading and math, but that it is also leaving behind significant groups of harder-to-educate students.”

The decision follows a contentious six-year finance battle between nearly 50 Kansas school districts and the state of Kansas. The suit was initially filed in November 2010 in response to funding cuts that coincided with and have been blamed on the national recession that began in 2008. The evidence in 2010 was that the school funding was cut $511 million annually, but as the economy recovered and began to grow, Kansas failed to restore the education funding cuts and, in fact, the cuts deepened.

The suit was tried over the course of four weeks in June 2012. Forty-four witnesses testified and 662 exhibits were introduced into evidence, resulting in 3,675 pages of trial transcripts and at least 18,727 pages of exhibits. Evidence was introduced showing that in some subgroups more than one-third of students were performing below the state’s standards.

Relying heavily on this evidence, the trial court found that the school finance system that existed in 2010 violated Kansas’ constitution. In March 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the finding that the then-existing law did not meet the “equity” component of the constitution’s education article. The high court instructed the legislature to fix the funding statutes with remedial oversight by the panel. The legislature’s efforts initially fell short, but eventually the state reached compliance.

The opinion issued earlier this month provides a much larger funding boost to struggling Kansas schools. Although the court did not order a specific remedy, the plaintiffs estimate that the ruling will result in funding increases in excess of $800 million per year. Once the state adopts new legislation, it will have the burden of demonstrating to the Kansas Supreme Court that the remedy it adopted complies with the court’s instructions and the Kansas Constitution.

This is a victory, but the litigation continues. The Supreme Court retains jurisdiction of the matter to ensure that the state complies and issued a June 30, 2017, deadline for compliance. The Kansas legislature is currently in session, and all indicators suggest that it will act quickly to address the court’s ruling.

Read the New York Times’ coverage of the opinion here and the Wall Street Journal’s coverage here.

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