Court finds Kansas school funding unconstitutional in a landmark case
On Aug. 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court, reviewing similar threshold issues, denied plaintiff’s petition for review in Robles-Wong v. California, declining to review the appellate court’s decision that there is no state constitutional guarantee to a certain level of education quality or education funding. The narrow 4-3 decision was a disappointing result after years of work for advocates of adequate funding for California’s schools. Supreme Court Justice Liu, in his dissenting statement, wrote that the “test scores of California students, on average and disaggregated by subgroups, are among the lowest in the nation, as measured by the federally administered National Assessment of Educational Progress.”
Kansas’s Constitution, like California’s, gives students a constitutional right to an education and imposes a duty on the legislature to make suitable provisions for financing the educational interests of the state. The Kansas Supreme Court wrote, "[w]e conclude the state's public financing system, through its structure and implementation, is not reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the minimum constitutional standards of adequacy." The Court found that black, Latino and poor students were especially harmed by the state’s lack of adequate funding, using the state’s test scores and graduation rates as evidence.
The California Supreme Court and the Kansas Supreme Court looked at different states and a different sets of facts. California has taken important steps to re-allocate state education funding under the LCFF and restore California education spending to 2007-2008 spending levels. In contrast, Kansas’s legislature has cut and frozen public school spending in the state. These differences are meaningful and may go a long way to explaining the divergent decisions, but that should not let California off the hook. California’s per pupil spending, when adjusted for regional cost-differences, ranks well below Kansas in EdWeek’s latest Quality Counts report. According to EdWeek’s 2017 report, Kansas per-pupil expenditure adjusted for regional cost differences in the last available year (2014) was $11,628 per student, while California’s was only $8,694. California’s students continue to need and deserve adequate funding. As Justice Cúellar wrote in a second dissent in Robles-Wong, “[m]any of those kids who come from low-income families find themselves concentrated in particular schools or districts that, despite the best intentions, fail to deliver an education remotely worthy of the students they are serving.” Adequate funding is a crucial part of providing an education to all students, and California’s students deserve better.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision is available at http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/SupCt/2017/20170302/113267.pdf.