Lawyers for Kansas and for dozens of school districts suing it filed briefs Friday at the Kansas Supreme Court, in what could be the final leg of a seven-year legal battle over school finance.
The state argues that legislation passed last month ratchets up annual state aid to schools by nearly $300 million over the next two years, and that should be enough to end the Gannon v. Kansas case once and for all.
The plaintiffs, meanwhile, lay out a case for increasing funding by another $600 million on top of that. If that argument succeeds, it could prompt a special legislative session to appropriate more money — and hammer out the details of how to pay for it.
Each side has one week to submit reply briefs picking apart each other’s claims. Oral arguments are scheduled for July 18.
In their brief, the state’s lawyers homed in on the Legislature’s decision to increase funds targeted at helping students who struggle academically. They also pointed to extra financial support for early childhood education and all-day kindergarten.
The brief states that this substantial new funding benefits underperforming subgroups directly and argues the extra dollars for kindergarten further free up existing budgetary resources that school districts had been diverting to cover kindergarten expenses.
Instead, schools can now spend those resources on initiatives for struggling students, the lawyers said.
Providing schools with the means to address Kansas’ persistent achievement gap was a key task for lawmakers, identified by the Kansas Supreme Court in a March ruling.
The justices wrote then that one-quarter of Kansas public school students were falling short of basic math and reading skills, and they noted the disproportionate effect for Hispanic and African-American children and students from low-income families.
The March decision was the latest in a string of court rulings that have largely sided with plaintiffs’ claims that Kansas is neither putting enough money into education nor distributing it in such a way that children with disadvantaged backgrounds have educational opportunities on a par with those who attend schools in wealthier areas.