- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state’s school funding system isn’t constitutional, ordering improved aid to poor districts by July and more lower-court hearings on how much the state must increase its total spending.

Here are five things to know about the case:


THE RULING: The Supreme Court said the state isn’t spending enough money on aid that helps poor districts with general operations and capital improvement projects and gave legislators until July 1 to fix the problems. It returned the case to a three-judge panel in Shawnee County to examine how much the state needs to spend on schools to meet its obligation under the state constitution to provide a suitable education for every child.


NEW STATE SPENDING: The Supreme Court said there’d be no further review of the aid for poor districts if lawmakers fully fund it, adding $129 million annually in spending. But Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Republican legislative leaders said the court’s decision left leeway for alternatives, albeit with further court review. As for total funding, there’s no specified figure until the lower-court review of the issue.


BOTH SIDES CLAIM VICTORY: Attorneys for parents and school districts that sued the state over school funding in 2010 were pleased because the court rejected the state’s argument that the issues in the case were political, beyond the review of the courts. Also, they believe further hearings will compel big increases in spending. But Gov. Sam Brownback and other top Republicans called the decision reasonable because the court didn’t set a specific target for overall spending and argued the Legislature has a lot of discretion on funding issues.


FEELING THE PINCH: State Supreme Court rulings in an earlier lawsuit prompted lawmakers to boost spending for schools in 2005 and 2006, but legislators backed away from those promises during the Great Recession, prompting the current lawsuit. The state said it did the best it could during tough economic times, but funding cuts to school districts resulted in more crowded classrooms, smaller staffs, fewer after-school programs and increased fees for parents.


BROADER IMPLICATIONS: If the courts order more spending in the future, lawmakers may have to reconsider personal income tax cuts in 2012 and 2013 that were championed by Brownback. The cuts are estimated to be worth nearly $3.9 billion over the next five years, and Brownback has argued that the reductions put Kansas at the forefront of an “American renaissance” by offering a tax-cutting template that other states, including Missouri and Oklahoma, are pursuing.

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