Kansas Supreme Court to weigh new school funding bill
Back and forth we go. After an October decision by the Kansas Supreme Court that rejected the Kansas Legislature’s newest school funding bill, the matter was back in legislators’ hands when the 2018 Session started in January.
In early April, the Kansas Legislature approved by narrow margins — 21-19 in the Senate and 63-56 in the House — Substitute for Senate Bill 423, a $525 million, five-year funding increase for public schools. Local legislators House Representative Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, and Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, both voted “No.”
This bill adds an estimated $200 million in state funding next school year and more than $100 million per year each of the next four years. This school finance bill was signed into law by Governor Jeff Colyer, and subsequently filed with the Kansas Supreme Court by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
Shortly after approval, a technical error was discovered that would have held back $80 million in intended funding to school districts. The Legislature corrected this error with House Substitute for SB 61 — deemed the school finance fix bill — with a 92-27 House vote and a 31-8 Senate vote. Again, Garber and Pyle both voted “No.”
On Monday, May 7, the school finance fix bill was signed into law by Governor Colyer. Also on Monday, Attorney General Derek Schmidt reported that the State of Kansas filed its brief to the Kansas Supreme Court regarding the recent legislative enactments in the school finance case.
The next round of briefing in the Court is due Monday, May 14. Oral argument at the Kansas Supreme Court is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22. The Supreme Court has said it will rule in the matter by June 30.
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 2017, the Kansas Legislature passed a new school finance bill — SB 19 — 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 Governor Sam Brownback’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.
In the court’s fifth Gannon v. State decision — issued 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 told 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 was 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. 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.”
Amber Deters116 Posts
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. She lives in Sabetha with her husband and three children.