The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the state’s spending on public education was unconstitutionally low, compounding the budget problems that have plagued the state under Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-slashing conservative agenda.
In a unanimous ruling, the court said black, Hispanic and poor students were especially harmed by the lack of funding, pointing to lagging test scores and graduation rates. The justices set a June 30 deadline for lawmakers to pass a new constitutional funding plan.
“While getting to this point in the litigation has not been easy, the hardest part now awaits,” Alan Rupe, a lawyer for four school districts that sued the state, said in a statement. “It is incumbent upon the Legislature to react to the ruling quickly and in a way that puts the funding levels into constitutional compliance.”
The court did not specify how much more money was needed, but finding any additional funding could prove difficult. In the years since tax cuts championed by Mr. Brownback were passed, Kansas has struggled to meet revenue forecasts amid painful cuts to many state agencies.
Despite voter backlash and increasing frustration from fellow Republicans in the Legislature, Mr. Brownback has defended his tax-cutting doctrine, and just last month vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have increased taxes and helped narrow the state’s budget gap. Lawmakers are already racing to fill a deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars for this year’s budget, and are now expected to begin searching for more money.
“I think there’s a clear supermajority of legislators that want to move away from Brownback economics and the failed tax experiments,” said State Representative Jim Ward, the Democratic leader in the Kansas House. “Now the school decision expedites the importance of getting that done sooner rather than later.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Brownback said he was reviewing the court’s decision and would make a statement later.
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