Local educators and Legislators hope the school funding litigation is nearing an end after the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision Monday.

Justices ruled the Legislature is coming closer to their vision of the suitable amount of money it takes to educate children in Kansas. The Legislature passed a school funding increase of more than $500 million spread over five years, but the court’s decision gave them until June 2019 to come up with a plan to add for inflation.

“It was a fair response from the court because the Legislature had done some things that addressed their issues but also left some stuff out,” Brian Spencer, Central Heights superintendent, said. “I am in hopes they do fix the inflation issues and send some money our way because we are not keeping up with inflation.”

State Rep. Kevin Jones, a Wellsville Republican who is a member of the House K-12 committee and the Wellsville school board, said there is some good that came out of the ruling. He said the opinion gives the Legislature time to look at ways to craft a bill to cover inflation. He said when a decision is in the hands of the justices, they can rule in a number of ways.

“At any given in point, if it goes before the court, they can say it is not equitable or in this case, it is not enough based on inflation or inflation was not put in there,” Jones said. “It leaves the Legislature trying to come up with an answer for the Court instead of doing their job, which is to determine how much goes to the schools.”

Rep. Blaine Finch, House member since 2012, said the decision was a good news/bad news situation.

“On the good side, the court has said the Legislature’s plan is constitutionally equitable, gets more money into the classroom and targeted to those kids who need it most,” Finch, an Ottawa Republican, said. “Also the court has rejected the unreasonable demands of the plaintiffs and their lawyers who wanted over a billion more dollars.

“The bad news is that once again the court has attempted to tell the people’s elected representatives how much money to spend on a core function of government. It keeps the case going, leaves our local schools in limbo, and highlights the need for more public dialogue about who should have the final say on how much money we spend on schools.”

Jerry Turner, West Franklin superintendent, said the ruling keeps the court case and school funding debate alive.

“The court said you did not put enough money in, but we are going to give you another year,” he said. “The court allowed them to kick it down the road another year. Do I think it is adequate? Not in today’s world. To educate kids and prepare them for this 21st century, it is going to take more money. The court said the equity piece [was there]. I disagree with them on that. Adequacy is what we are dealing with.”

State Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican, said the decision was disappointing at best. She said the latest school funding bill hurt rural schools.

“The equitable portion of the school funding formula was completely ruined in that bill,” Tyson said. “We need to fix the equitable portion. It was disappointing that the Court did not rule that it was unconstitutional because it did reverse a lot of stuff they previously ruled that was constitutional. The adequacy portion, the Court should never be saying a dollar amount. That is for the Legislature to decide. The Legislature needs to stand up to the Court on that. To me, this ruling demonstrated how political our Supreme Court has become.”

Spencer was glad the justices did not state in the ruling about the possibility of closing schools.

“I don’t want to go through the nuisance of schools being closed,” he said. “Nothing good will come out of that. I am glad we are able to move forward, but I wish more money was coming our way. There is a need.”

He cited the increased funding Central Heights will receive for the 2018-19 school year will be eaten by higher employee health insurance premiums.

“We go backwards even as we get increases,” Spencer said. “It is important that the court caught that and the Legislature realizes that we are not keeping up. It will cost more for health insurance than [the increase] I am getting from the state this year.”

Ryan Cobbs, the new Ottawa superintendent as of Sunday, said the decision was not a surprise.

“We will continue along the same path for a little while [longer],” he said. “We recognize that our Legislature is trying to do some things and work within a set of parameters the best they can for the education of our kids. There is a great deal of appreciation that goes with that. We have a lot of legislators that are working very hard. We also recognize our job is to advocate for what’s best for our students. We will continue to fight and push to do everything we can to improve the system we have to educate our kids.”

A PARTNERSHIP

Cobbs said this messy court case — Luke Gannon, et al v. State of Kansas, et al — may be a blessing at the conclusion if each side can be sensible on what needs to be accomplished. The solution is working together for the common good, he said.

“It has to be a partnership,” Cobbs said. “I would love to see this thing move out of the court system at some point and time. For us to lay the ground work for what this foundation is and ultimately rely on a partnership between the two and build those relationships so that when we see changes in the future, we don’t go through this again.”

Cobbs, a 1995 graduate of Ottawa High School, said this court fight has been going on since he was in high school at the start of the 1990s.

“Everybody has their place in all of this,” Cobbs said. “Once we finally get to the point where we all feel like we are in a good spot, it is incumbent upon us as educators and legislators to say ‘how do we work through this,’ so that we model the behavior in conflict resolution we expect of our kids. We try to work through this as much as possible before we wind up in a court setting [again]. Ultimately, it has cost our state however many millions of dollars in taxpayer expense for these court cases.”

Cobbs said having a set of expectations for both sides would be a big benefit.

“If the Legislature knew what they needed to provide for us and we knew exactly what was being provided for us, we could budget and work around that and make decisions — what is not only best for our state, but best for school systems as well,” Cobbs said. “When we see ups and downs, we have the ability to work to make a plan moving forward and we don’t wind up in a [adverse] situation, that at times, is not as amicable as we would like.”

Cobbs said the way out of litigation is for the Legislature to set a foundation similar to the court’s thinking.

“The issue here is there is enough difference of opinion on both sides, it is hard to come to a conclusion that everybody sees as a benefit,” he said. “There is enough conversation happening now that we are going to get there. The decision by our ... Supreme Court showed that. They believe there is a willingness for the groups to work together to come to a conclusion that is positive for everybody.”