Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Kansas Funding System Unconstitutional by Molly Hunter

For those left wanting more after my quick post two weeks ago, Molly Hunter got her hands on the full opinion and offers the following summary:

On December 30, 2014, a three-judge District Court panel, in Gannon v. State, declared that the Kansas "approach to funding the K-12 school system" violates the Kansas Constitution because funding is "inadequate from any rational measure or perspective."

In March 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court, also in the Gannon case, reiterated the fact that the Kansas Constitution requires both equity and adequacy in school funding and set out clear definitions and tests to determine whether the state was complying with each requirement.

After the Supreme Court found the Kansas system was violating the equity standard in March, the Legislature adjusted state funding to remedy that finding.

On the adequacy requirement, also in its March decision, the Supreme Court remanded plaintiffs' claim of inadequacy to the panel of trial court judges. The Court instructed the District Court panel to determine whether the state's school funding system was providing sufficient funding, separate from the resolved issue of equitably distributing the funding, and whether that funding was sufficient using the "Rose factors," enumerated below.

The District Court panel already had an extensive record from the 2012 trial in Gannon, and obtained and took judicial notice of additional information in 2014. In its ruling, the District Court summarized some of the evidence and explained how the facts support its conclusions.

In its December ruling, the District Court found the positive impact of increases in school funding on Kansas schools illuminating. For instance, the court panel recounted increased funding in the form of grants won by certain schools, how they used the funding effectively, and the significant achievement gains that it generated.

Against such examples, the court juxtaposed the major cuts in the state's school funding and the negative impacts those cuts caused. The court pointed to the Kansas Department of Education's statewide 2013 Report Card, which "reflects a substantial downshift in all scores," including drops for all categories of students.

The District Court concluded that "inadequacy ... persists in the State's approach to funding the K-12 school system." After discussion of the Rose factors and the evidence of Kansas educators and outside experts, the court stated that the educational goals articulated in the Rose standards "are not met [and] will not be met by the current level of state supported educational funding."

As expected, the state Attorney General said recently that the State will appeal this ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court.

The Rose Factors

To meet the Kansas Constitution's adequacy standard, the state supreme court explained that "the public education financing system provided by the legislature for grades K-12---through structure and implementation---[must be] reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the standards set out in Rose and as presently codified in [Kansas statute]." Rose is the name of a Kentucky Supreme Court case decided in 1989.

In the years since 1989, several state courts and legislatures, including those in Kansas, have adopted the Rose factors, which require instruction to be designed to provide each child with these seven capacities:

  1. sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing society;
  2. sufficient knowledge of economic, social and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices;
  3. sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable students to understand the issues that affect the community, state and nation;
  4. sufficient knowledge for students' mental and physical wellness;
  5. sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his/her cultural and historical heritage;
  6. sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields...to enable each child to choose and pursue life work ... ;
  7. sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics and the job market.

In summary, the District Court panel wrote, "we find the Kansas public education financing system provided by the legislature for grades K-12 -- through structure and implementation -- is not presently reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the Rose factors." (emphasis in original) 


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