Gannon decision says case settled for now, but jurisdiction retention is a key point

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Kansas Legislature is now in compliance with Article VI of the Kansas Constitution, but retained jurisdiction of the Gannon school funding case to ensure that the money promised gets to K-12 education in the state through the 2022-2023 school year.

“When the Court looks to adequacy, they don’t measure money, per se, but rather, they look to, is this amount of money sufficient to get students to meet basic benchmarks,” said Lumen “Lou” Mulligan. Mulligan is the Director of the Shook, Hardy & Bacon Center for Excellence in Advocacy at the University of Kansas. “To put it a little simply, is this enough money to ensure that Johnny can read and write and do arithmetic?”

Mulligan explained that retaining jurisdiction is something courts do when they aren’t sure that those the decision effects will comply without oversight.

“Usually, when a court case is done, the court no longer retains jurisdiction, the case is over, and if there’s an injury that happens again, you’d have to restart a case,” Mulligan said. “Where courts probably most commonly retain jurisdiction are in custody decisions, where the court has said, okay, we’re having joint custody between ex-husband and ex-wife, but the court’s going to retain jurisdiction. If this goes south in any way, we won’t have to restart a whole new lawsuit, you just come right back to me and we’ll talk about it.”

Fundamentally, the retention of the case means the Court does not trust the legislature to keep its hands off of the formula for the entire period of the bill.

“The legislature has backtracked and rewritten statutes so many different times that, if they deviate from this plan, we retain jurisdiction, you come straight back to us as opposed to starting a whole new lawsuit all over again,” said Mulligan. “That’s what it means.”

With more than half of the state’s budget going to K-12 education, it will be a difficult task to continue to fund the yearly increases written into the formula, especially if there is any sort of economic downturn between now and the end of the bill in 2023.