KBA responds to Gannon decision
Friday, March 7, 2014
Posted by: Beth Warrington
History of School Finance Lawsuits in Kansas
• Caldwell v. State, No. 50,616 (Johnson County District Court, slip. op. Aug. 30, 1972)
• Mock v. State, No. 90 CV 918 (Shawnee County District Court, filed Oct. 14, 1991)
• Montoy v. State, 120 P.3d 306, 278 Kan. 769 (Kan. 2005)
• Gannon v. State, No. 109,335 (Kansas Supreme Court, Mar. 7, 2014)
Earlier today the Kansas Supreme Court issued its ruling in the school finance case Gannon v. State of Kansas. This case was originally filed in late 2010 and alleged the State of Kansas violated the Kansas Constitution by failing to adequately fund K-12 schools.
Today’s ruling, as with many important rulings on matters of great public interest and consequence, will leave many unsatisfied. All should be satisfied, however, that our system of government has succeeded. The Kansas Bar Association, like all Kansas citizens, believes in the separation of powers as set forth within the Kansas Constitution. The power granted to the legislative branch includes the duty to fund matters of public interest, like schools. The power granted to the judicial branch, in this case the Kansas Supreme Court, includes the duty to determine if the requirements of the constitution, in this case adequate school funding, have been met—if the law has been upheld. With today’s ruling, the Court has fulfilled its constitutional responsibility. Both sides in this important case played a fair game, refereed by our courts.
Article 6, subsection 6(b) of the Constitution states, in part: "The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” It is this specific subsection that gave rise to the Gannon case and its predecessor, Montoy v. State of Kansas, which was decided in 1996. Montoy also dealt with K-12 school funding levels.
In response to Montoy, the legislature adopted a multi-year funding plan that, for many years, satisfied the requirements of the constitution. A severe economic downturn, however, and changes to the state’s taxation structure caused the funding levels mandated by the multi-year plan to decline in recent years. As a result, citizens and school boards in Kansas filed what is now known as the Gannon case.
The Gannon case went to trial before a three-judge panel on June 4, 2012. The panel heard testimony from both sides over five weeks of hearings. The three-judge panel ruled that the legislature failed to fulfill the requirements of the Constitution relating to suitable school funding. The State of Kansas appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which has reviewed the evidence, considered the law and now issued its ruling—all duties assigned to our courts in our constitution.