Some Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) parents are appealing to the District Court in hopes of raising the limit on school funding that they say handicaps SMSD. They believe that this cap restricts the students’ education and in turn restricts their freedom of speech.
In Kansas there is a limit on the amount of government aid a district can spend on education. Since Shawnee Mission is a generally wealthy area, it is in the bottom 10 percent of how much government aid it gets, according to the Kansas State Department of Education. This cap also prevents parents of SMSD school students from voluntarily aiding the schools. The parents argue that a restriction on education funding is a restriction on free speech.
“Speech has been defined as the communication of ideas,” the parents’ attorney, Tristin Duncan said. “So our argument is that since education is the communication of ideas between a teacher and a student, it is speech.”
Duncan also says that there have been many cases in the Supreme Court where money has been defined as speech when it is used to further speech. She says that because of this, the government stopping people who are willing to help fund their child’s education is a restriction on their free speech.
According to the parents, the cap was created to spread equity among the 286 school districts in Kansas, but it does the opposite.
“Kansas City Kansas [School District] (KCKSD) gets substantially more money than Shawnee Mission [School District],” Duncan said. “So we are saying, lift the cap high enough so we can get as much money as KCK does. Right now the cap entrenches inequality, it doesn’t protect equality.”
With funds equal to neighboring school districts, SMSD could potentially implement teaching advancements to improve the education of the students. The cap that limits the funding is determined by a formula.
SMSD Assistant Superintendent of Communications Leigh Anne Neal says that Shawnee Mission has been an advocate for a new system that supports greater opportunities and raises funds at the local level.
“The district remains focused on developing and offering excellent, innovative educational offerings to meet the needs of students today and to prepare them for the future,” Neal said.
The parents tried to have the Supreme Court take their case, but were denied on Dec. 11. They are now taking this matter to the District Court. They believe that free speech is necessary for education. Therefore, when the government restricts funding for education, they are restricting the First Amendment rights of the students.
Sophomore class president Matthew Trecek agrees with their argument that restriction on education is a restriction on free speech.
“Restrictions on our education hinder us as students,” Trecek said. “As a nation of people who promote human rights, the ability to learn should be very high up on our nation’s values. How can people who aren’t educated to their full potential learn how to make their own arguments and form their own opinions?”
Duncan thinks the Supreme Court should have taken their case. Not just because the cap violates the first amendment, but because the Supreme Court said in 1973 that they are waiting for a case like this.
In 1973, there was a case very similar to this one, about school funding, called San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez. The San Antonio School District lost the case, but the Supreme Court reserved the question. They said that if there is a case in the future where the school district is underfunded, there is a funding cap in place and the voters of the district are willing to spend more money on the schools in the district, they will re-open the case.
According to Duncan, SMSD fulfills all three requirements.
“Our community is a community that has never rejected the request to increase spending on education,” Duncan said. “Therefore we present the very issue that [they] reserved in 1973.”
These parents have fundamental rights to spend as much money as they would like on things that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of their child, such as fast food, but they are prohibited by the state from helping fund their child’s education.
Duncan hopes that other parents will follow in their footsteps.
“We do think this case could inspire similarly situated school districts in other states to fight against such an oppressive state law, which hurts education for all children” Duncan said.