Kansas Schools Face Shutdown Over Funding Impasse

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Kansas school districts could possibly be looking at a shutdown after June 30 if the Legislature does not make changes to the way the state plans its education spending.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in the case of Gannon vs. Kansas that the Legislature had not found solutions to the inequities apparent within the state’s school finance formula.

Attorney Alan Rupe, who helped a number of schools in their lawsuit pertaining to school funding, said that as a result of the ruling, lawmakers will have to fix the funding situation that is currently ongoing between rich and poor school districts.  If not, schools will face being shut down, writes Julie Bosman for The New York Times.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt said that lawmakers have met this obligation.  However, other lawmakers say that schools could still be closed due to a mandate offered by the courts to lawmakers to add more money to schools by July 1, or the schools will be defunded, reports Craig Andres for KSN.

In the ruling, the court said that if the Legislature could not show school funding to be constitutional, that would mean that “no constitutionally valid school finance system exists through which funds for fiscal year 2017 can lawfully be raised, distributed, or spent. Without a constitutionally equitable school finance system, the schools in Kansas will be unable to operate beyond June 30.”

While Rep. Barbara Bollier said that school funding is not on the agenda for the last meeting of this session of the Legislature, adding that the state’s attorneys need more time to look over the ruling, KMBC reports that an education funding proposal could be discussed.  However, if it is not, Governor Sam Brownback will need to call a special session.  It remains unclear whether Brownback will pursue that option, writes Cassidy Ritter for The Kansas City Business Journal.

In the meantime, school districts are becoming concerned over the ability to get work done over the summer months.

“There is roofing, repaving, painting, cleaning …,” said David Smith, the chief of staff for Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools. “It goes and goes and goes all summer long.  And we have many kids who depend on summer feeding programs. What do we do about that?”

Summer staff members are also worried about the state of their jobs.  Superintendents report districts saying that if hourly staff members take positions elsewhere, they are worried they will not be able to get them to come back.

Districts who are in the middle of construction projects shared concerns over what a shutdown would mean for interest and bond payments.

Marlin Berry, the Olathe Public Schools superintendent, said that there are close to 66,000 people employed by state school districts and education offices across the state, who represent about 4.5% of the state workforce.

“Can you imagine the economic consequences if 4.5 percent of your workforce is idled and unpaid?” he said. “It is a cascading problem the longer it might go on.”

The courts have not yet defined what districts could or could not do.  The only guidance so far states that if the funding is still found to be unconstitutional, the ruling would block the funding.