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Kansas Supreme Court Selected Opinion Summaries
Montoy et al. v. State of Kansas et al., Docket 93032
July 28, 2006

Summaries and press releases are prepared by Ron Keefover, Office of Judicial Administration, Kansas Judicial Center, 301 West 10th, Topeka, KS 66612-1507 (785-296-2256), e-mail: keefoverr@kscourts.org.


RE: Appeal No. 92,032: Montoy et al. v. State of Kansas et al.

The Supreme Court today ruled that the legislature has substantially complied with the court's prior orders to correct flaws in the school finance act that was in place when two school districts filed suit challenging the act's adequacy and equity.

The court dismissed the appeal, but left for "another day" whether the current school finance act meets constitutional mandates to provide suitable and equitable funding for public education.

"The sole issue now before the court is whether the legislation passed in 2005 and SB 549 (passed in 2006) comply with the previous orders of this court. If they do then our inquiry ends and this case must be dismissed. A constitutional challenge of SB 549 must wait for another day," the majority in the court's 4-2 decision concluded.

The court concluded that the justices are "mindful of the fact that the funding of public education is extraordinarily complex, just as we are mindful of the realities of the legislative process. We conclude that the legislature's efforts in 2005 and 2006 SB 549 constitute substantial compliance with our prior orders, through which it will have provided by 2008-09 at least $755.6 million additional dollars to the education of the State's most precious asset--our children."

"The constitutionality of SB 549 is not before this court. It is new legislation and, if challenged, its constitutionality must be litigated in a new action filed in the district court," the majority opinion states. It notes that the court already decided that the school finance formula in place prior to 2005 was unconstitutional in adequacy and equity.

The decision gives legislators high marks in addressing the concerns raised in prior school funding decisions. Some key points of the majority decision filed today:

The Court rejected the State's contention that it cannot consider the Legislative Post Audit (LPA) Cost Study Analysis in determining whether the legislature complied with its earlier orders. "Although the LPA Cost Study Analysis is not evidence in the record on appeal, it is part of the legislative history of SB 549," the court concluded. The justices cautioned, however, that the cost study could not be considered as substantial and competent evidence of the actual and necessary costs of providing a suitable education because it has not been subjected to the normal fact-finding process in litigation in which the litigants can question its methodology, the qualifications of the persons conducting the study, etc.

There is no question that the legislature has substantially responded to the court's concerns that the funding formula failed to provide adequate funding for students in middle-sized and large districts with a high proportion of minority and/or at-risk special education students and that the special education, bilingual, and at-risk student weighting factors were distorted by the lack of any actual cost basis.

The legislature also responded to the court's concerns about the equitable distribution of funding, noting that "equity does not require the legislature to provide equal funding for each student or school district." The Court previously rejected the plaintiffs' contention that the school finance act violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. and Kansas Constitutions. "What is required is an equitable and fair distribution of the funding to provide an opportunity for every student to obtain a suitable education," the court ruled today.

"Further, the legislature responded to our concerns about wealth-based disparities inherent in the Local Option Budget by increasing the equalizing LOB state aid AVPP percentile.

"Our prior orders have made it clear that we were concerned that the then existing financing formula was distorted and provided disparate funding because it was based on former spending levels with little or no consideration of the actual costs and present funding needs of Kansas public education. The legislature has responded to this concern. The legislature has undertaken the responsibility to consider actual costs in providing a suitable system of school finance by commissioning the Legislative Post Audit to conduct an extensive cost study, creating the 2010 Commission to conduct extensive monitoring and oversight of the school finance system, and creating the School District Audit Team within LPA to conduct annual performance audits and monitor school district funding as directed by the 2010 Commission. In addition, the new legislation contains numerous provisions designed to improve reporting of costs, expenditures, and needs.

"We also find that the LPA Cost Study Analysis was considered by the legislature in making the decisions that underlie the formula changes in SB 549 and, thus, the legislature was responsive to our prior orders to consider actual costs.

"We note the plaintiffs' contention that because SB 549 does not provide funding at the levels recommended by LPA's cost study, it was not based on actual costs, and therefore, fails to provide constitutionally suitable funding. However, implicit in that argument is the conclusion that the LPA Cost Study Analysis is credible evidence of the actual costs of education. As discussed above, we cannot reach that conclusion."

Justices Carol A. Beier and Marla J. Luckert dissented from the majority decision, saying they agree with the court's implicit decision not to interfere with funding authorized for the current school year, but would have sent the case back to the district court where the validity of the cost study used by the legislature could be examined.

Writing for the dissenters, Justice Beier said: "There is no question that the legislature has made substantial efforts to improve the adequacy and equity of court school finance system. The political realities of the legislative process make perfection unattainable, and no amount of money committed to public education will ever solve all of the problems of Kansas' urban poor or of its rural communities losing population."

"Still, because I am unwilling to graft a 'good enough for government work' phrase onto Article 6, § 6 of our state constitution, I would permit this case to continue in the district court, where it may be finally resolved or prepared for further, much better informed review by myself and my colleagues," she concluded.

Justice Eric S. Rosen, also writing separately, said he agreed with the result reached by the majority--Chief Justice Kay McFarland and Justices Robert E. Davis and Donald L. Allegrucci--but said the court's analysis of the constitutional duty to "make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state" must "necessarily begin with an understanding of this right and the duties associated with that right."

He said he agrees with concurring opinions in last year's school funding decision that "every child in Kansas has a fundamental right to an education guaranteed by the Kansas Constitution." That conclusion was announced by Justices Davis, Beier, and Luckert in a decision that was filed before Justice Rosen was appointed to the court.

Justice Rosen said he agrees with the majority's conclusion that the 2006 legislation complies with the Supreme Court's prior orders and today's dismissal of the lawsuit. However, he wrote separately to express his disagreement with the majority's reasoning in its conclusion that SB 549 complies with the prior orders; "to express my concern with including equalizing local option budget state aid as part of the State's funding obligation; and to note my disagreement with the dissent," which would have remanded the case to the district court.

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