Kansas' education funding court victory is a win for national funding reform efforts.
four years, the Shawnee County District Court in Kansas ruled in December in the
case Montoy, et. al v. State of Kansas, et. al that Kansas's public school
financing system violated children's rights in the state of Kansas and under the
U.S. Constitution. Originally filed in December 1999 by two school districts and
students in those districts, the case challenged the Kansas
legislature's responsibility to adequately provide for public education. The plaintiffs
were prompted by what they saw as conspicuous funding inequities between
districts, especially in larger school districts with a higher number of
minority, poor, and special need students.
Kansas political leaders to come up with a constitutional funding plan
to raise the education budget by nearly $1 billion (adjusted for inflation) by July 1,
2004, based on figures recommended in a report by Augenblick and Myers, a nationally
known education research firm. Augenblick and Myers was also hired by the
Metropolitan Planning Council in 2000, and later the Illinois State Board of
Education (ISBE) in 2001, to produce a
similar study for Illinois
, which was used by ISBE to
support the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB)'s foundation level
The case builds upon over 20 years of intense scrutiny and litigation over
public education funding in Kansas. In 1973, the School District Equalization Act
was passed to address a court decision finding inadequate state aid leading
to disparities between school districts. The School District Equalization Act
was then disputed by lawsuits in the early 1990s, which
challenged the then-governor and legislature to devise an improved formula for
funding schools. In 1992, they responded by shaping and enacting the School District
Finance and Quality Performance Act on revised funding formula guidelines, as
well as creating the School District Capital Improvements State Aid Program
to help school districts with capital expenditure costs. The same year,
new lawsuits challenged the Act, which was ultimately overturned by the
Kansas Supreme Court in 1994.
recent December 2003 victory did not come easily. It was first dismissed and
only reconsidered when the Kansas Supreme Court remanded it.
past of school funding acts and reforms in Kansas, how does the recent court
case matter? Since enactment of the School District Finance and
Quality Performance Act in 1992, funding inequities have actually worsened in the
state, due to damaging legislative changes to the Act over the past decade.
Its original intent had essentially been nullified, and though the passage of
the act was valuable, the anticipated benefits to the state's school-age children have
not occurred. Also, since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in
2002, elementary and secondary school students in every state must progressively
excel on an annual achievement test. Fulfilling these federal requirements
required rethinking and even overhauling existing education funding structures.
In Kansas, the 300 percent funding disparity between
wealthy districts particularly moved the decision, which found the link
between student achievements and increased funding to be inherent to school
success, especially for students who are consistently left behind. If the
governor and legislature fail to act on the decision, the court can
take additional measures to ensure its implementation. After July 1, 2004, the defendants can
appeal the decision, raising the possibility of a drawn-out struggle. Kansas currently
ranks as the second worst state in having the
largest funding gap per student between schools with the smallest percentage of minority students
and those with the highest percentage of minority
students, according to the Education Trust, a leading Washington, D.C.-based
The Education Trust also reports that Illinois has
among the widest funding gaps in the nation between students in schools
low concentrations of poverty and those with higher concentrations of poverty. The
funding gap per student between schools with the smallest
percentage of minority students and those with the highest percentage of
minority students in Illinois is the eighth worst in the country.
The opportune legal success in Kansas is not necessarily replicable in Illinois,
nor does it guarantee a dedicated, long-term victory for children due to
the possibility of appeal, but Kansas, whose entire state population is
nearly equivalent to that of the city of Chicago, sends a powerful message
to Illinois and the rest of the nation that the pressures of more mandates are
not impediments, but catalysts for optimistic change.