Constitutional Law

Kansas Supreme Court remands school spending case, averting constitutional confrontation

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The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday sent a controversial school funding case back to a lower court to determine whether lawmakers violated a state constitutional requirement for adequacy in education.

The court said a special three-judge panel had used an incorrect test to determine whether school funding was adequate, the Wichita Eagle, the Associated Press and the New York Times report. The supreme court did affirm a panel finding that the state created unconstitutional, wealth-based inequities between school districts by withholding capital outlay payments to districts that were entitled to them and by withholding supplemental aid.

On remand, the panel should evaluate funding after inequities are addressed, the court said in its per curiam opinion (PDF). “Although adequacy and equity are distinct components of Article 6 [of the Constitution], they do not exist in isolation from each other,” the court said.

The Times says the court’s refusal to order an immediate increase in funding has “averted for now the possibility of a constitutional showdown with the state’s conservative-led legislature, which has vowed to defy court orders to increase funding.”

The court did assert, however, that it has the authority to decide whether lawmakers are complying with the state constitution. The judiciary “is not at liberty to surrender, or to ignore, or to waive” its duty, the court said. “The people’s constitutional standards must prevail over the legislature’s statutory standards.”

The court set a July 1 deadline for the legislature to fund the capital outlays and supplemental aid. If the restored funding is only partial, the lower court should decide whether it is sufficient under the court’s test, the opinion said. If lawmakers don’t act, the opinion said, the panel can strike down the law banning the capital funding transfers and take other appropriate measures, the court said.

Prior coverage: “Kansas lawmakers could defy court on school funding, its leaders say”

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