Kansas high court says state not spending enough on public schools

A battle being fought in states all over America reached the highest court in the state of Kansas on Friday.

The Kansas Supreme Court said the state, which has cut taxes and spending sharply, is not spending enough on public schools. It's a violation, the court said, of the state constitution.

Today's ruling means millions more for poorer school districts in Kansas, which were devastated by budget cuts made by a fiscally conservative legislature.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was in the forefront of the push to cut funding
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Republican Gov. Sam Brownback led the charge to trim school funding.

"Everybody's got to spend some time now really analyzing this and how we move on forward," Brownback said. "We have great schools. We're going to work to make them better."

Four hundred seventy-five thousand children attend Kansas public schools.

"We don't have a full-time librarian," said one parent, Libby Kleeman.

Libby Kleeman said she would prefer money go to school funding over tax cuts
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Kleeman's two children and Diane Caton's three grandchildren all go to Wichita public schools. The Kleemans live in the affluent suburb of Andover. Caton's grandchildren go to school in a more middle-class neighborhood.

"When you begin to take away services, it's the students that suffer," Caton said.

Not just poor schools are affected, the women said.

"The stakes are high for every district in the state, for every child in the state," Kleeman said.

At Jardine Middle School, hit even harder by those cuts, some kids are so needy teachers do their laundry.

"I thought we as a state had evolved and understood how important getting our kids ready for college and careers would be," Principal Luro Jo Atherly said.

At Principal Luro Jo Atherly's school, teachers even do students' laundry
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In 2005 a court ordered the state to pay $4,492 dollars per student. In 2008 it spent $4,400 dollars. Now it's down to $3,838, $654 less than the state mandate.

Critics say increased pressure for school budget cuts came in 2012 when Kansas gave a $1.1 billion tax break which benefited mostly wealthy families, like Kleeman's.

"The tax cuts were not important to me," Kleeman said. "I would rather the money go to school funding and other necessary things that the government does."

State Rep. Steve Brunk supports the cuts.

"It's been estimated that we could save $300 to $400 million dollars just in administrative fees by having more efficient school management," Brunk said.

This battle is not over. The state is still fighting over whether to give its schools an additional $450 million. And 45 other states are closely watching Kansas. The reason is that all of those states have lawsuits that challenge the funding level of their public schools.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.