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School Finance and the Kansas Supreme Court

Posted By Joseph N. Molina III, Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This past week there have been a number of news articles surrounding the school finance case, Gannon v. State. This case deals with the appropriate amount of money need to provide a suitable education to Kansas kids. It is anticipated that the Kansas Supreme Court will be issuing its ruling in the next month or so. This ruling could require the state of Kansas to appropriate more funds for K-12 schools. The Kansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments on this case on October 8, 2013.


Several news articles have followed this case through the legal process. See Suzanne Perez Tobias, Kansas school-funding lawsuit hinging on what’s ‘suitable,’ The Wichita Eagle (Oct. 9, 2013),; see also John Hanna, Kansas governor’s legacy clouded by school funding case, The Kansas City Star (Oct. 13, 2013),; and Dion Lefler, Kansas Supreme Court hears arguments in school funding case, The Wichita Eagle (Oct. 9, 2013),


In each case the main thrust is what happens to the state budget if more money is needed to satisfy the Kansas Constitutional requirement to deliver a "suitable” education. There appears to be three distinct options. One is to simply appropriate the money and raise taxes. This option faces a very tough road during the 2014 session as the Kansas legislature recently passed a huge tax cut. To raise these funds by increasing taxes would undo a lot of that hard work. The second option is to ignore the ruling. This would place the three branches of government in a very uncomfortable position. The third option would be to change the Kansas Constitution so the legislature is in direct control of school appropriations. This idea was discussed earlier in 2013 but the votes were not there to put it on the statewide ballot.


In the meantime the Kansas Supreme Court has taken center stage for some very pointed criticism by Republican legislators. For instance, last week Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) stated that if the court rules later this year the same way it did in Montoy v. Kansas it would be "a killer decision.” "It would kill all potential funding increases for all government entities,” she said. "If the court does that, it is unaffordable and it is unrealistic. "So defying them is a possibility.” (Read more at


From the same article, Rep. Gene Sullentrop (R-Wichita) also said that if the legislature is ordered to pay $400-$500 million, there would be a serious dilemma. He also believes that there is a "strong feeling that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction to appropriate money, and if there is a strong feeling that they are not looking at all sides fairly, then we are not apt to go along with them.” (Read more at


This sentiment was reiterated by Sen. Wagle when she commented to the Wichita Business Journal that "If we do get that ruling down, what we’re going to do is focus on what is the role of the Supreme Court.” "Should they be interpreting law, should they be appropriating money?” Wagle said. "They aren’t elected, and we’re real concerned that when they do analyze how much money is appropriate for K-12 funding, they don’t get to hear all the other testimony that we hear from the other needs of the state, whether it be transportation, corrections, higher ed and all the other entities we fund. So it’ll be a very tough year if we’re at odds.” See John Stearns, Brownback: K-12 court ruling will color next legislative session, Wichita Business Journal (Nov. 7, 2013),

Quick Take

The Kansas Bar Association would like to thank all those involved in making the 7th Annual Fall Legislative Conference a success. Attendees were treated to a fabulous CLE on concealed carry, which was hosted by the KBA Bench & Bar Committee. Our speakers included KBA Bench and Bar Chair Teresa Watson, Chief Judge Dan Creitz, Assistant Kansas Attorney General C.W. Klebe, and Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson.


I would also like to thank our conference panelists: Rep. Steven Becker (R-Buhler), Rep. Blaine Finch (R-Ottawa), Rep. Jan Pauls (D-Hutchinson), Rep. John Rubin (R-Shawnee), and Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita). I greatly appreciate them taking time out to discuss the 2014 legislative session with us.


Finally, the Fall Legislative Conference would not be possible without our wonderful and generous sponsors. They include:

  • Alderson, Alderson, Weiler, Conklin, Burghart & Crow LLC
  • John Peterson & Bill Brady/Capitol Strategies
  • Kansas Bankers Association
  • Polsinelli PC
  • Whitney B. Damron P.A.
  • R.E. "Tuck" Duncan/Kansas Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association

At this point it is important to remember that two bills were introduced that would have a serious effect on the operation, composition, and jurisdiction of the Kansas Supreme Court during the waning days of the 2013 legislative session. Those bills:

  • HB 2415 which would reduce the mandatory retirement age from 75 years old to 65 years old for members of the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Court of Appeals.
  • HB 2416 would split the Court of Appeals into two divisions. One devoted to only criminal appeals (five judges) and the other devoted to civil appeals (nine judges). In addition, this bill would limit the jurisdiction of the Kansas Supreme Court to those areas outlined by the Kansas Constitution.

The KBA Board of Governors has voted to oppose both of these bills.


It would not be a surprise if the criticisms of the Kansas Supreme Court continue throughout the winter and into the legislative session. Calls to alter the way Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected will most likely pick up steam, as will proposals to stifle the independence of the courts. Even now Kansas legislators are asking higher-education officials to lobby the Supreme Court in an effort to save higher education dollars. See Editorial: Court influence, Lawrence Journal-World (Nov. 7, 2013),


What other tactics are used to change public perception remains to be seen, but rest assured, we can expect a lot more.

Tags:  Gannon  Kansas Supreme Court  legislature  Montoy  school finance 

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