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September 10, 2013

Earlier this year the trial court in Gannon v. State of Kansas, declared: "Plaintiffs have established beyond any question that the State's K-12 educational system now stands as unconstitutionally underfunded."

The State of Kansas appealed that ruling, and on September 6, 2013, Education Law Center, as an amicus, or "friend of the court," filed a brief with the Kansas Supreme Court to provide the national perspective on state constitutional school funding litigations and urge the court to affirm the trial court's ruling.

In a brief written expertly and pro bono by Gibbons P.C. of Newark, NJ, Education Law Center (ELC) and its national program, Education Justice, point to the Kansas Supreme Court's own precedent in Montoy v. State. The Montoy litigation is one of the leading cases in the well-developed state jurisprudence on the interpretation and enforcement of state responsibilities under the Education Articles in all 50 state constitutions. Addressing key issues raised in the appeal, the ELC brief asserts that:

  1. A "large majority of the decisions of Sister State high courts reflect the same well-reasoned assessment of the proofs, legal analyses, and careful rulings as did [the Kansas Supreme Court] in Montoy. While the State defendant's brief cited a few outlier cases from other states, the national perspective demonstrates that this Court's rulings in Montoy were appropriately relied upon by the three-judge trial court.
  2. Decisions in other state high courts support the Kansas rulings that the State's financing formula must be "based upon actual costs to educate children," linking Kansas children's right to education with the real-world resources necessary to make this right a reality.

A total of four organizations and one individual filed amicus briefs in support of the Gannon plaintiffs, who are numerous students and a few school districts supported by the non-profit organization Schools for Fair Funding:

  • Kansas Association of School Boards
  • Emporia, Kansas School District
  • Kansas National Education Association
  • Education Law Center
  • Walt Chappell, former Kansas State Board of Education member

No organizations filed in support of the State defendant's positions in this appeal. The Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on October 8, 2013.

Background: In 2005, in Montoy v. State, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed a trial court ruling that the then-current state K-12 school funding system violated the Kansas Constitution's Education Article. After the Legislature and Governor revised that system and adopted a plan to phase in more funding, the state supreme court closed the case. However, the State reneged on its planned phase in, and two years later the Gannon plaintiffs filed their case.

In January 2013, after hearing a month of testimony, the three-judge trial court issued unanimous, comprehensive findings and declared the current funding system unconstitutional due to underfunding. The trial court explained that the funding system is well-designed to comply with the constitution, but the State's decision to make major cuts to school funding render it unable to accomplish its purpose.

"The current formula simply needs to be funded," said John Robb, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs. "No formula will work if it is not adequately funded."

The State appealed, and the parties filed briefs with the Kansas Supreme Court in May, July and August of 2013. Read Plaintiffs' Opening Brief and State Defendant's Opening Brief.

Related Stories:
Plaintiffs Win in Kansas, State Response May Create Crisis
A Cautionary Tale, Threats to K-12 Education in Kansas?
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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