The Kansas Supreme Court said late Tuesday it no longer needs to monitor K-12 funding. That put an end to the Gannon lawsuit filed in 2010. Some Democrats are worried the Republican-controlled Legislature will try to cut school funding now that the court isn’t looking over its shoulder. (Associated Press/Pool photo)
By Sam Zeff, Kansas News Service
For the first time in 13 years, school funding in Kansas isn’t in the courts.
In November, Attorney General Kris Kobach argued the state has “substantially complied” with the court’s 2016 ruling. In a two-page order released Tuesday evening, the high court agreed.
“Given the court’s stated purpose was to retain jurisdiction to ensure implementation of the phased-in amounts (of money) and that has occurred,” the high court wrote, it's handing school funding back entirely to lawmakers.
The court ruled 5 to 1 to release the case, with one justice abstaining.
Democrats are worried the lack of a court chaperone means Republicans will now try to cut public education funding.
“I do have concerns,” said Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa. “I think we’ll be back in court in a couple of years.”
Gov. Laura Kelly said in a statement that Kansas “can’t afford to turn back the clock” to “tax experiments funded by school budget cuts,” a reference to tax cuts pushed through by former Gov. Sam Brownback.
Alan Rupe, the lead attorney on the case — called Gannon v Kansas — said his team will still keep a close eye on lawmakers.
“The proper funding of schools by the Legislature is always in question,” he said.
Rupe has been suing Kansas over school funding since 1989, when he filed a case called Montoy v Kansas.
Sykes pointed out that the Legislature is currently battling over a task force recommendation that the state spend an additional $350 million on special education, a proposal opposed by Republicans on the task force.
On X, formerly known as Twitter, House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, wrote he appreciated the court’s decision.
“This shows the legislature has prioritized education by fully funding public education,” he said.
Kobach said on X that “The court made the right decision.”
The Kansas Association of School Boards said it would have preferred the Supreme Court retain control of the case.
“But we have faith in the Legislature, who has fully funded education in the past few years,” KASB lobbyist Leah Fliter told KCUR.
Kansas lawmakers have already set the base amount of state aid to school districts, but Fliter said she’s concerned lawmakers may try to save money by stopping increases for inflation.
Justice Eric Rosen was the only judge to say the court should keep monitoring the case.
“Given the legislative history of school funding, Justice Rosen would deny the State’s motion and continue” to oversee the case, according to the order.
In past oral arguments, Rosen asked pointed questions of state lawyers who argued the state was meeting its constitutional school funding obligations.
Justice Caleb Stegall did not participate in the ruling. Stegall was chief counsel to Brownback's administration before his appointment to the Supreme Court and was deeply involved in tax policy and budget cuts.
The Gannon case, filed in Fall 2010, lasted 4,844 days. At times it dominated the courts, the Legislature — and, in 2016, played a huge role in the election.
Conservatives mounted a campaign that year against the retention of four supreme court justices, largely over their role in school funding. All four kept their seats despite $1 million of TV and radio ads aimed at ousting them.
Gov. Laura Kelly focused her 2018 gubernatorial campaign on school funding in response to ongoing battles in the state Legislature over how to meet the court’s requirements, and the backlash to Brownback’s tax cuts — a message that landed her the state’s top job.
This article was used by permission from the Kansas News Service. The Kansas News Service is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.ksnewservice.org.