Local lawmakers, advocacy groups react as Supreme Court deems K-12 funding constitutional

Students at Merriam Park Elementary.

Following this morning’s long-awaited Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the K-12 funding formula approved by the legislature earlier this year, local lawmakers and advocacy groups are weighing in.

The court’s ruling, which found that the addition of approximately $90 million in annual base state-aid for the next four years will bring school funding up to what it deems to be a constitutional level, would seem to bring an end to the latest protracted battle over school financing in the state. But the court said it would retain jurisdiction “to ensure continued implementation of the plan.”

Here’s what local legislators and advocates have to say about the ruling:

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee)

The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision to retain jurisdiction is no surprise. Of course, the court wants to keep its control over Kansans taxpayers’ money. Half of the state budget is spent on K-12 education. But the Legislature is complicit, as it has ceded its constitutional duty and powers to the court, and the court enjoys the power without the duties and responsibilities that should come with it.

Once again, there is a selfish and reckless violation of the voice and liberty of the people. The opinion is another grab to amass political power and authority so justices on the court can proclaim what state law is, rather than respect the will and the liberty of the people. The people must rise up and make their voices heard to fight against tyranny by this court.

Sen. Dinah Sykes (D-Lenexa)

I am pleased that the court agreed that the Legislature is fulfilling our constitutional duty. I ran for office because I saw firsthand the impacts lack of funding had on schools. Having reached this milestone reflects the return to investing in Kansas’ most important resource: our children.  Given what happened in the Montoy case, the decision to hold open the case makes sense in case the legislature fails to live up to its responsibilities and promises.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton (D-Overland Park)

I couldn’t be more proud of the parents and education advocates here in the Shawnee Mission District, Johnson County, and Statewide. After years of struggling against recalcitrant anti-Education members of House and Senate Leadership, and near-constant attacks on our teachers, our court systems, and our students, Kansas finally has an education plan that is sustainable and is fully funded.  I am truly moved to be part of a community that fights for their children, their teachers, and understands that our school system is, and always has been our most vital economic development tool. Thank you so much to all of those who fight. This is your moment, and I am so grateful to be a part of it.

Rep. Tom Cox (R-Shawnee)

Today is a great day in Kansas. The Kansas Supreme Court agrees with what the vast majority of legislators, policy experts, Department of Education, and the Governor believed to be a constitutional level of education funding! I ran for office in 2016 to solve three major issues: Fix our tax code away from the failed 2012 experiment, fully fund k-12, and expand Medicaid. We fixed the tax code in 2017, we have now fixed the school funding issue in 2019 and I feel very optimistic that we will expand medicaid in 2020. I know many of my colleagues have run on solving the same problems and it is beyond exciting times to see so much being accomplished back-to-back.

Now we must make sure to protect the funding as it moves forward so we never get in this position again!

Rep. Cindy Holscher (D-Olathe)

A number of people breathed a sigh of relief on Friday with the ruling of SB 16 as meeting constitutionality for public school funding. Reaching this point has been a long process. This has only happened because scores of public school supporters have worked tirelessly; several times advocates walked over 60 miles to Topeka to bring attention to the issue of under-funding (my daughter and I joined in twice for the walk), activists have shown up at the Capitol, and a number of us made sacrifices to run for public office to fix the Brownback disaster which included huge cuts to our public schools.

The fact of the matter remains – there has been an effort to dismantle our public schools in the past decade. That is why the court retained jurisdiction over the case. Simply stated, the Legislature has repeatedly shown it can’t be trusted to fund our schools as directed by the constitution. Heading into this session, the court made it clear the formula which was developed last year was fine and that we had ONE job – adjust for inflation. Yet, the extremists who have worked to defund our schools had other plans. Prior to the start OF THIS VERY session, House Speaker Rykeman and Majority Leader Denning, in an effort to avoid adequately funding our schools, indicated the whole formula would be scrapped and we’d be starting over. Fortunately, this unnecessary “plan” did not gain traction. Then, the House K-12 Budget committee spent the greater part of session dodging the issue, only to have Chair Kristy Williams bring forward a Rykeman-designed plan at the end which DECREASED funding. As long as these extremists are in office, it has become clear that we can expect these types of attacks on our public schools.

Many thanks to all the activists who have “shown up” repeatedly on this issue. And, many thanks to our Governor who developed a plan that was sensible and sustainable, which a bipartisan group in the Legislature wisely moved forward. So, we can rest for a little while and re-charge. But, we must remain vigilant as the extremists are likely already developing new tactics to try to weaken our public schools. I’ll be ready to continue the fight; I hope you will, too!

Rep. Jan Kessinger (R-Overland Park)

The Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the legislature has constitutionally funded schools is a welcome recognition of diligence and hard work over the past two years. In 2018 we formed a good plan, though the court rejected it for failure to account for inflation. In what should have been an easy fix, the education budget committee took nearly four months before finally coming to agreement on how to respond to the court. The court acceptance of the funding plan is good for students, teachers and the entire state of Kansas.

The ruling gives certainty and confidence to school districts in Kansas whereby they can make long-range plans and budgets. The U.S. Census Bureau reported this spring that Kansas ranks 30th in school funding per pupil. Kansas per pupil spending is about $1,500 less than the national average. Some point out that Kansas has been increasing funding for the past few years while other states have cut. That is disingenuous as dramatic cuts prior to the increases still put Kansas behind the curve. While I do not advocate Kansas being in the top 10 in funding, in consideration of the importance of education to Kansas and, we should move that needle higher than 30.

Education is our greatest asset in Kansas and we are now investing in our future with this funding plan. Education creates a workforce that is attractive to employers, a critical element as companies consider relocation.

The education funding fight over the past decades has been a distraction and has hurt the state. It is critical future legislatures continue to constitutionally fund the schools, while we turn our attention to the two next highest priorities: building our state’s infrastructure and finally passing Medicaid expansion.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley (D-Merriam)

From walking to Topeka to running for the legislature in 2014, constitutional funding for all our children has been a focus of my service. It is gratifying to know the checks and balances in our system of government worked, and that the Court has retained jurisdiction to keep the legislature accountable for the funding it has committed to. Governor Kelly committed herself to being the education Governor and it is a relief to have reached a resolution to the years of underfunding.

Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Park)

Passing a constitutional funding formula is the number one reason I ran for office in 2016. I am proud to have supported this education funding plan (the first constitutional plan of my 3 sessions) and am thrilled for the students, parents, and teachers of Kansas. They have waited far too long for our government to do its job. While this was a bipartisan accomplishment, it should not be lost on anyone that the end of nearly a decade of litigation came with a Democratic governor and more Democrats in the House and Senate. Elections matter and Kansas is enjoying the results of the 2018 elections today.

Rep. Rui Xu (D-Westwood)

After a decade of litigation, the Gannon lawsuit is finally over and I could not be more overjoyed for the teachers, parents, and students of Kansas. I am proud that we had a bipartisan coalition in the Legislature to pass this, I am thankful that we had an education governor in Laura Kelly who guided this and signed it, and I am incredibly grateful that we had a Supreme Court to hold us accountable to the Kansas Constitution.

While this particular funding battle is now over, we cannot stop fighting. We must keep fighting to ensure the legislature keeps its funding obligations to the schools. We must keep fighting to ensure all of our students have the training they need for not only the modern economy, but the future economy. And we must keep fighting to ensure that our schools do not continue to just absorb all of the larger societal ills, while ignoring the root causes.

There is still valuable work to be done, but this is a great day and a great new beginning for our children.

Rep. Brandon Woodard (D-Lenexa)

Kansas won today. The school funding plan has now been approved by all three of our co-equal branches of government: the legislative, executive, and judicial. I ran for office to be part of the solution toward ending the decade-long litigation on school funding. Our public K-12 schools give young Kansans the foundation they need from which to be empowered to make a difference in their community. Previous administrations and legislatures have failed an entire generation of Kansas students in an unconstitutionally funded school system. I am proud of the investment our state is making for our current and future generations of Kansans.

Advocacy organizations

Northeast Johnson County Conservatives

The KS Supreme Court should not be involved at all in deciding the funding necessary for an adequate education, that’s the legislature’s job. That this is the 6th ruling by the Court in this case proves they don’t know what the target is and so cannot hit it! We are subject to reinterpretation by the plaintiffs at any time in the future and so are on a never ending treadmill of uncertainty in school funding. Meanwhile we spend ever more per student (about $14,000 which is #6 in the US), performance on national tests by students is relatively flat and Kansas teachers continue to complain that the money is not reaching the classroom. Why are other states able to proceed and Kansas is not? Where is all this money going? — Steve Snitz, Chair, Northeast Johnson County Conservatives PAC

Game on For Kansas Schools

We believe the Kansas Supreme Court made the right decision in finding the legislature substantially complied with its Gannon VI mandate. While legislative action is rarely perfect, we appreciate the bipartisan effort to increase school funding and believe this will provide our school districts a level of budgetary certainty that allows investment in staff and programs in ways that have been lacking for many years. We also believe this funding is sustainable and that the court showed appropriate deference to legislative and agency decision-making. We urge our community to remember this case isn’t merely about money, but is about providing necessary resources to Kansas children so they may reach their potentials and contribute to the civic and economic welfare of our state.

We also support the Court’s decision to maintain jurisdiction. If the Court had chosen to maintain jurisdiction in the Montoy case, it would not have taken the past 9 years to file and resolve the Gannon litigation. Despite the State’s argument to the contrary, filing brand new litigation should the state fail to live up to the legislative commitments forming the basis of the Gannon remedy is unacceptable. Kansas children have spent nearly a decade waiting for adults to do the right thing by restoring funding to the levels agreed to in the 2006 Montoy case. That should never happen again.

Education First Shawnee Mission

The Gannon ruling is a win for all Kansans! The cycle of litigation can finally end and we can focus on issues beyond funding including, but not limited to, special education, cultural competency, and transparency. The Court retaining jurisdiction over the case ensures that our legislators will be held accountable and protect this decision moving forward. Many of our children have never had the opportunity to attend a fully-funded Kansas public school, and we are excited for what this means for the children of our state. We are grateful to the advocates and legislators that have worked tirelessly on this issue over many years. This is a fantastic example of what happens when we work together for a common goal. It has not been an easy fight, but today we will celebrate this victory! — Megan Peters, Education First Shawnee Mission

MainStream Coalition

The MainStream Coalition is excited that the Kansas Legislature has finally met the Constitutional burden to fully fun public education in Kansas. We are immensely grateful to the legions of parents, teachers, administrators, and advocates who worked tirelessly for ALL Kansas children. We are grateful to the legislators and to Governor Kelly for seeing us through this last mile. And we are forever indebted to the Kansas voters who shifted the direction of our state towards success for all children.

Now is not the time to rest, however. In August and November of this year, local elections across the state will determine the makeup of many local school boards. These board members will be responsible for allocating money to best serve their districts, and the children in those districts. It is not 2020 yet. Get involved in your 2019 elections!

(Editor’s note: We’ll add additional lawmakers’ and advocates’ statements as they come in)