TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Supreme Court signed off Friday on an increase in spending on public schools, but the justices refused to close a decade-long lawsuit that prompted their decision.
Friday was the high court’s seventh ruling in the Gannon public school finance case, and the best news Kansas has received about its level of funding for schools.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly called the court’s decision a big victory for the entire state of Kansas.
“It’s a victory for our kids. It`s a victory for our parents who fought day and night for their schools. It`s a victory for the teachers and advocates that work tirelessly to hold leaders accountable on this important issue,” Kelly said.
In this past legislative session, the state boosted funding by $90 million for the next four years to keep up with inflation. It was enough for the court to say Kansas had finally complied with its mandate.
It was part of the platform Kelly ran on in her bid for office.
“Educating our kids is not only the best way to address the challenges facing our state, it`s also a moral obligation to fund our schools. Today, I`m able to tell you I kept that promise,” she said in an afternoon press conference in her office.
But Kansas isn’t necessarily out of the woods. The court kept the lawsuit open to make sure Kansas continues to properly fund schools.
Kansas Speaker of the House, Republican Ron Ryckman of Olathe, calls the school finance plan “an empty promise,” saying $693 million would have to be cut from other core services or be increased in taxes for the plan to work.
Kelly said she’d wait for the dust to settle before looking at future budgets. She indicated property values could improve and more people will move to Kansas now that education funding has been approved.
“There was a ripple effect throughout the state because we were not properly funding our schools. I think this will help us turn that situation around,” Kelly said.
Now that the education funding seems to be more stable, Kelly echoed the Kansas National Education Association’s calls to raise teacher salaries to levels more in line with surrounding states.
The Kansas NEA issued the following statement:
“Investing in our students means investing in their educators. By 2018 Kansas had dropped in national rankings to 41st in average teacher salary. Our neighboring states are investing in their education workforce, and unless we take action now, Kansas teachers will earn less than those in all surrounding states by next year. The recruitment and retention of a high-quality teaching force must be a priority for Kansas school districts. Officials within the Kansas Legislature, the Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and indeed the Governor have all called for raising teacher pay to ensure these dollars are invested in the classroom. With funding certainty, it is time to prioritize raising teacher pay to keep Kansas competitive.”
A spokesperson for Kansas City Kansas Public Schools, one of the districts that originally filed the lawsuit, said the district was still reviewing the Kansas Supreme Court ruling.