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March 7, 2014

Today the Kansas Supreme Court, in the face of heavy political pressure from opponents of fair school funding, upheld the right of Kansas students to educational opportunity and reaffirmed the court's own pivotal role in upholding the Kansas Constitution, in Gannon v. State.

In a decision that gives all parties a firm and clear road map going forward, the court explains the constitution's requirements for equitable and adequate resources for all of the state's schoolchildren. The court upheld a unanimous three-judge trial court ruling, in favor of plaintiffs.

"This is a watershed moment in Kansas history," declared David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center (ELC). "The court continues to fulfill its responsibilities as the last resort guarantor of constitutional rights."

Equity is a long-standing, hallmark value in Kansas education. The court reiterated the Kansas requirement that all "school districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort." States that perpetuate gross inequities, like New York and Illinois should take lessons from Kansas.

Adequacy in school funding is also required by the Kansas Constitution, and the court set out a more detailed definition than ever before, in giving the plaintiffs the opportunity to present even more evidence, if needed, for their adequacy claim. The court held that cost-based funding is an important component of adequate funding.

"In a thorough and thoughtful decision, the Kansas Supreme Court quotes the Texas Supreme Court, extensively, and references other state high courts in similar cases, such as those in Kentucky, Tennessee, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and others," observed Molly Hunter, Director of Education Justice at ELC.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said, "It's now up to Governor Brownback and the legislature to respect the court's mandate to fully and equitably fund Kansas schools. Any attempts to strip the court of its authority or to further undercut the potential of Kansas' youth would be an assault on public integrity and undermine the rule of law in the state."

This Kansas ruling continues the over 20-year nationwide trend by state courts in vindicating students' state constitutional rights to education.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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