DALLAS — A Dec. 30 ruling by a three-judge panel could require the Kansas Legislature to increase school funding by more than $500 million as lawmakers struggle to erase a $715 million budget deficit in their upcoming session.
The Shawnee County District Court panel concluded in the case known as Gannon v. Kansas that state funding for schools "is inadequate from any rational perspective of the evidence presented or proffered to us."
John Robb, attorney for the organization Schools for Fair Funding, which represents the Wichita school district and others that sued the state, said resolution of the funding gap could cost the state between $548 million and $771 million per year.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement that while he was "still digesting the full implication of the district court's 116-page ruling," he would "be working with legislative leadership to address the best path forward."
The ruling represents the latest development in years of litigation over the adequacy and fairness of school funding. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in early 2014 that the state was not equitably funding education. While the legislature remedied that issue during the 2014 session, the Supreme Court sent back to the district court the issue of whether Kansas children were receiving a constitutionally adequate education.
"We expect that this case will be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court," Cynthia Lane, superintendent of the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools, said in a prepared statement. "In the meantime our goals remain the same and those are to prepare every student for college and careers in a global society."
Kansas lawmakers said that appeals could mean that they will not have to find the funding in the session that begins Jan. 12.
The state faces projected shortfalls of $279 million for the current fiscal year that runs through June 30, and $436 million in the following year that begins July 1.
With the revenues falling below expectations, Brownback last month ordered spending cuts designed to rebalance the state budget.
Moody's Investors Service downgraded Kansas' general obligation debt to Aa2 from Aa1 on April 30, in part because tax cuts led to lower revenues. Standard & Poor's lowered the issuer credit rating to AA from AA-plus on Aug. 6 and retained a negative outlook.