On Feb. 11, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the current way to distribute funds to public schools in Kansas was not only unequal, but unconstitutional, and has given the state legislature a deadline of June 30 in order to correct the issue, or it is possible that schools in Kansas will not open for the 2016-2017 school year on time.
This ruling is in relation to the equity of funding distribution to Kansas schools, but there is also the issue of adequacy of funds, which is a separate part of the case that the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on.
The issue with funds being not equitable is because, two years ago, the legislature decided to provide “block grants” to school, which are based on funding levels from several years ago. This means that districts that have grown in population, such as Rock Creek, are not receiving a fair amount of funds, seeing as the funding is still based on past student numbers. Some smaller schools are also receiving less money because of their size and local tax base, while large schools are getting more funding.
“The current block grant formula hurts Rock Creek because we are a growing school,” principal Eric Koppes said. “The current block formula is based on our enrollment from two years ago. We do not receive new or increased funds, even though our own enrollment is increasing.”
If the courts do not get a new funding formula written, the Rock Creek district could go through some major changes.
“Unless the state acts to increase their revenue, our district will need to cut our budget, raise local property taxes or a combination of the two,” superintendent Darrel Stufflebeam said.
In the worst-case scenario, schools in Kansas would be shut down, at least for a time, and students would be forced to go about other ways of getting their degree.
“My parents and I have talked about this, and I would probably be home-schooled,” junior Eli Miller said. “We wouldn’t be able to go through private schools, so I would be home-schooled by some family friends.”
Alan Rupe, an attorney in Wichita, said in the Feb. 11 edition of The Wichita Eagle that the Supreme Court ruling was beneficial for Kansas schools, because it will require that the legislature reconsider school funding.
“[The ruling is] a win for every kid in Kansas that attends public schools, particularly those kids that are disadvantaged in high poverty areas.”
However, according to the same article, Kansas Supreme Court: Funding Inequitable, Senate President Susan Wagle had a different opinion.
“The Supreme Court’s threat to close our schools is nothing more than a political bullying tactic and is an assault on Kansas families, taxpayers and elected appropriators,” Wagle said. “We will not play their game but will instead do our best to provide a quality education for all Kansas students.”
Since the ruling, both the House of Representatives and the Senate formulated and passed bills to address the ruling on March 24. Governor Sam Brownback is expected to sign the bill in early April, but the Supreme Court would still need to determine if the bill meets the requirements they set for equity.
“My advice to everyone is to read and pay attention to what is happening in Topeka,” Koppes said. “Form your own opinions and vote to support individuals who care about the same things you do and then hold your representatives and senators accountable for the job they have sworn to do.”
Article by Olivia Lee, yearbook photo editor
Photo courtesy of the State of Kansas