School Finance: Kansas Supreme Court rejects fix

The Kansas Supreme Court has racketed the school finance ball back toward the Kansas Legislature.

In the court’s fifth Gannon v. State decision — issued Monday, Oct. 1 — the court held that the state’s new school finance law violates both the adequacy and equity requirements of the Kansas Constitution.

In its ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court basically tells the legislature to “show your work” and prove that the level of funding is constitutionally adequate under the test requiring that funding be reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the constitutional standards.

Additionally, the court held that four provisions of the new law created or exacerbated unconstitutional wealth-based inequities. Those provisions included those related to capital outlay expenditure allowances, supplemental general budget limits, supplemental general state aid calculations and at risk funding calculations. These provisions must be addressed, the court states.

A new deadline has been set by the court — June 30, 2018 — though the court ordered that a new funding law be crafted before April 30 to allow time for review. This gives lawmakers, who reconvene in January, a full regular session to hash out the school finance issue, again.

In its ruling, the court stated that “after that date we will not allow ourselves to be placed in the position of being complicit actors in the continuing deprivation of a constitutionally adequate and equitable education owed to hundreds of thousands of Kansas school children.”

Senate Republican leaders issued a joint statement blasting the ruling.

“This ruling shows clear disrespect for the legislative process and puts the rest of state government and programs in jeopardy,” Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, Vice President Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, and Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said in a joint statement.

Governor Brownback said in a statement Monday evening that “the court should not substitute its decision for that of the legislature.”

“Today’s court decision is yet another regrettable chapter in the never ending cycle of litigation over Kansas school funding,” Brownback said.

History

Gannon v. Kansas was filed in 2010 after Democratic Governor Mark Parkinson ordered school funding cuts. By 2013, a three-judge trial court panel had said the funding system for Kansas schools was unconstitutional. In 2015, the Kansas Legislature enacted block grant funding for a period of two years to allow time to craft a new formula.

The court has divided the complex case into two parts: adequacy — the overall amount of education funding — and equity, whether the Legislature has fairly divided money between property-wealthy and property-poor districts.

In 2016, the Court ruled that the block grant funding was not equitable, and in March of this year, the Court held that school funding in Kansas was not meeting requirements of adequacy and required the legislature to provide a fix by June 30.

In early June, the Kansas Legislature passed a new school finance bill — SB19 — which was modeled after the previous formula that had been in use for more than 20 years and had essentially in 2010 been struck down as unconstitutional. The bill provides a fixed amount of funding per student and then builds on that using weightings to factor in other costs such as transportation, at risk student population and low enrollment.

The court ruled it would allow the state’s new funding law to go into effect while justices deliberated, enabling schools to prepare for the beginning of classes.

While SB 19 expanded education funding by approximately $293 million over the next two years, the court held that this increase is substantially less than all other cost estimates, including estimates from the Kansas Legislative Research Department and the Kansas State Board of Education.

To help provide funding for the increases, the legislature approved and overrode the Governor’s veto of SB 30, a tax bill projected to raise state revenues by approximately $600 million per year. The tax bill raises income tax rates, repeals the small business (LLC) exemptions and eliminates the phasing out of the income tax.

Local legislators Senator Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, and House Representative Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, both cast “no” votes for the bill.

In June, Pyle and Garber both said they believed the new formula favored a few of the state’s more populous counties.

At that time, Garber said he did not believe that the taxpayers could afford spending $1.6 billion more over the next five years. He also said he believed the bill fell short by “treating symptoms instead of addressing the real issue,” which he believes is the breakdown of the family and other social issues.

Pyle said the major shortfall of the new school finance law was that it did not address the issues that had been studied over the past few years. It was basically a rewrite of the old formula, which “hasn’t worked” according to the courts, he said.

Amber Deters138 Posts

<p>Amber Deters is Co-Editor of The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2005. She specializes in school board, election and legislative reporting, as well as photography and page and advertising design. Amber is a 2005 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in journalism and mass communications, print journalism sequence.<br /> She lives in Sabetha with her husband and three children.</p>

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