Litigation

After the Kansas Supreme Court, in Montoy v. State, declared the state's education funding system inequitable and inadequate under the state constitution, the Legislature enacted a new, constitutional funding system. A few years later, however, a big tax cut and major school funding cuts led plaintiffs to file Gannon v. State, which is now before the state supreme court.

Status & Recent Developments

Gannon v. State, filed in 2010, led to a unanimous three-judge trial court decision in favor of plaintiffs in 2013. The court declared the funding system unconstitutional because the funding formulas, which it found to be sound, are significantly under-funded. The court criticized the state for disregarding the Kansas Constitution’s education clauses and stated that reducing funding is a “gamble” and “destructive of our children’s future.” The state appealed; the supreme court is requiring mediation at the same time that briefing moves toward oral argument in October 2013, if mediation fails.

In 2011, a Kansas federal district court dismissed an anti-equity case, but in 2012, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for trial. 

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Major Cases

In 1990, plaintiffs challenged the then-current state school funding system in Mock v. State. After a preliminary trial court ruling that each child must be given an educational opportunity that is equal to that made available to every other child, the state adopted a new, more equitable, funding system. In Unified School District No. 229 v. State, plaintiffs challenged the legislature’s new funding system, arguing that it was still unconstitutional because it led to disparate funding results. The Supreme Court of Kansas, citing from decisions in other states, found the funding system constitutional because there was a rational reason for the differences in funding.

Subsequent “back sliding” changes to the state’s funding system led plaintiffs to file Montoy v. State, in which the trial court found that the revisions to the funding system caused it to violate the constitution.

In a 2005 Montoy decision, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s holding that the legislature’s funding statutes failed to meet the constitutional requirement to "make suitable provision for finance" of the public schools.  In later Montoy rulings, the supreme court rejected the legislature’s partial revamping of the funding system and retained jurisdiction to monitor compliance. After finding that 2006 legislation remedied the constitutional deficiencies in the state funding scheme, the court closed the Montoy case. The State began to successfully phase in the Montoy remedy.

In 2010, however, because of major funding cuts in 2009 and 2010—along with a major tax cut—plaintiff parents, their children, and school districts filed Gannon v. State. With support from districts educating over 40% of Kansas students, they allege that the state’s 2009 and 2010 cuts in school funding render its funding system unconstitutional because (1) it is below the cost of providing the constitutionally required “suitable” education to Kansas children and (2) the cuts are inequitably distributed among school districts.

Due to new laws enacted in response to Montoy, the Gannon case was heard by a panel of three judges. The governor had proposed changes to the funding system in the 2012 legislative session, allegedly to delay the litigation, but the legislature chose not to enact the changes.

In 2012, the trial was held. Plaintiffs asked the court to require the state to provide sufficient funding to allow the current school finance law—found constitutional in Montoy in 2006—to work. The trial court held for plaintiffs in early 2013, and the state appealed. The supreme court ordered the parties to mediation but also has briefing on the appeal moving forward. Oral argument is set for October 2013, if the parties fail to reach a mediated settlement.

In 2010, plaintiffs from a property-wealthy school district filed an “anti-equity” case, Petrella v Parkinson, in federal court, asking the court to overturn a state law that placed a cap on local school taxes in order to prevent larger inequities among school districts in the state. The Gannon plaintiffs intervened on the side of the state defendants. The federal district court dismissed the case in 2011, but a 2012 Circuit Court decision overruled and remanded for trial.

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State Constitution Education Article

"The legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools, educational institutions and related activities which may be organized and changed in such manner as may be provided by law." Kan. Const. art. 6, § 1.

"The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state." Kan. Const. art. 6, § 6.

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Court Interpretation of Education Article

In Unified School District No. 229 v. State, the Kansas Supreme Court stated that it would leave questions of education standards under the constitution up to the legislature:

"Through the quality performance accreditation standards, the [School District Finance and Quality Performance] Act provides a legislative and regulatory mechanism for judging whether the education is ‘suitable.’ These standards were developed after considerable study by educators from this state and others. It is well settled that courts should not substitute judicial judgment for educational decisions and standards . . . . Hence, the court will not substitute its judgment of what is ‘suitable,’ but will utilize as a base the standards enunciated by the legislature and the state department of education [in K.S.A. 72-6439]." 885 P.2d 1170, 1185-86 (1994)

In Montoy v. State (Montoy II), the Kansas Supreme Court held that the constitutional requirement for "suitable provision for finance" of public education, including the requirement that the legislature provide for "intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement," imposed a mandate that the Kansas "educational system cannot be static or regressive but must be one which ‘advance[s] to a better quality or state.’" 102 P.3d 1160, 1164 (2005). The court found that the state’s school performance accreditation system, which is "based upon improvement in performance that reflects high academic standards and is measurable," and its standards for individual and school performance levels, comprise the legislature’s criteria for determining whether it has made suitable provision for the finance of education. Id. (quoting K.S.A.72-6439(a)). As such, these student performance accreditation measures are at least the base point for determining "suitability."

Also in Montoy II, the court reiterated the idea that a funding system that created or failed to correct disparities was not constitutionally invalid as long as any disparities were "rationally related to a legitimate legislative purpose." 120 P.3d 306, 308.

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Pre-K

Kansas has two pre-K initiatives administered by the State.

Kansas’ At-Risk Four-Year-Old Preschool Program is a half-day program for 4-year-olds who are at-risk of academic failure, but are not being served by Head Start. The program served 24% of 4-year-olds in the 2009-2010 school year and is rated a 7 out of 10 on the established quality indicators. 

Kansas recently transferred their Pre-K Pilot Initiative from the Department of Social Services to the Department of Education. In its now second year being ranked by the NIEER Yearbook, the program reached an exceptional 8 out of 10 benchmarks on the established quality indicators.

Overview

At-Risk Four-Year-Old Programs

The Kansas Department of Education has issued guidelines for the At-Risk Four-Year-Old Program, that list among the objectives of the program: helping at-risk preschool children acquire the skills, knowledge, and behaviors they need to transition successfully to kindergarten; reducing the number of at-risk children who are referred for special education evaluations and retained in grade during their primary school years; and reducing the achievement gap between at-risk and non at-risk primary age children.

Only public school districts are eligible for grants under the At-Risk Four-Year-Old Preschool Program. District may, however, subcontract with public and private agencies to deliver, operate or maintain preschool programs.

Local districts identify 4-year-olds for Kansas' at-risk program according to multiple criteria, such as poverty, teen parents, minor developmental delays, or limited English proficiency. At least half of the children enrolled in the Pre-K Pilot Program must be children eligible for free or reduced lunch, or those with other at-risk indicia, including: children of single parents, teen parents, or parents without a high school diploma; children with limited English proficiency or developmental or academic delays; and children of active duty military personnel.

At-Risk Four-Year-Old Programs must meet the minimum number of hours of operation required for a kindergarten program, which is 2.5 hours a day or a minimum of 465 hours a year.

Kansas Pre-K Pilot Program

Kansas launched the Pre-K Pilot Program in 2006-2007, on the theory that pre-K learning environments "improve child skills and knowledge," thereby improving school readiness. This program was included in the NIEER Yearbook for the first time in 2008-2009, when its administration transferred from the Department of the Children’s Cabinet to the Kansas State Department of Education.

Pilot Pre-K is evenly split between offerings at community sites, and public schools. Half of the children are not required to meet any specific risk factors, while the other half must exhibit one of the listed At-Risk Program factors. The Pilot Program must meet for 2.5 hours per day. Collaboration among community partners is required.

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Funding

At-Risk Four-Year-Old Programs

Funds for the At-Risk Four-Year-Old Preschool Program are distributed through a competitive grant process.  Districts are reimbursed on a per pupil basis, at half the full day rate used for elementary students. 

Approximately a third of the funding available for the at-risk program comes from tobacco settlement funds and the rest from general revenue funds.

Starting in 2006, school districts are permitted to use money received on account of their at-risk four-year-old enrollment to pay for at-risk, bilingual and vocational education programs and services.

Kansas Pre-K Pilot Program

The Pre-K Pilot program is funded by competitive grants, with $3 million in state funds and supplemented by community business and foundation contributions.

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NIEER Analysis

Kansas' At Risk Four-Year-Old Program reached 7 out 10 benchmarks in 2009-2010, as it did in 2008-2009 and 2007-2008. (NIEER) This is an exceptional improvement from the 3 benchmarks it reached in the 2006-2007 school year.

Quality Standards

At-Risk Four-Year-Old Programs

Kansas' At Risk Four-Year-old programs reached 7 out 10 benchmarks in 2009-2010.

The 7 benchmarks reached were:

  • Early Learning Standards
  • Teacher must have Bachelor’s degree
  • Assistant teacher must have a Child Development Associate credential, or equivalent
  • Teacher in-service (at least 15 hours/year)
  • Class size limits of 20 students
  • Class ratio of 1:10 or better
  • Screening/referral and support services

The 3 benchmarks not met were:

  • Requirement that teachers have specialized training in pre-K education
  • Requirement to provide at least one meal a day
  • Monitoring/Site visit program.    

Kansas Pre-K Pilot Program

The Kansas Pre-K Pilot program reached a high 8 out of 10 benchmarks in 2008-2009 in its first year of being rated by NIEER.

The 8 benchmarks reached were:

  • Early Learning Standards
  • Teacher must have Bachelor’s degree
  • Assistant teacher must have a Child Development Associate credential, or equivalent
  • Teacher in-service (15 hours)
  • Class size limits of 20 students
  • Class ratio of 1:10 or better
  • Screening/referral and support services
  • Monitoring/Site visit program     

The following 2 benchmarks were not met:

  • Requirement that teachers have specialized training in pre-K education
  • Requirement to provide at least one meal a day
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Program Evaluation

Every school must submit an annual report to the state on the demographics and results of its At-Risk Four-Year-Old Preschool Program.  The Pre-K Pilot Program, like all Kansas Preschool Programs, is required to assess local child outcomes, aligned with the Kansas Early Learning Standards.

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Links to Statutes and Regulations

Kansas Statutes Annotated

Kansas Department of Education

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