School finance not ‘adequate,’ Supreme Court says

Equity? Check. Adequacy? Not quite good enough.

That’s the word from the Kansas Supreme Court to the Kansas Legislature on the recent school finance law.

In its sixth Gannon v. State of Kansas decision released Monday, June 25, the Supreme Court held that the State has not shown the school finance law enacted during legislative session this spring meets the adequacy requirement in Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution.

However, the court held that the new law does resolve the equity violations identified in the Court’s October 2017 decision. Additionally, the court held that the newly created equity violations alleged by the plaintiffs do not exist.

Although the court ultimately held the funding fell short, it acknowledged the “considerable amount of total funding” added in the school year 2017-18 and scheduled to be added through school year 2022-23.

“By timely making financial adjustments in response to the problems identified with the State’s chosen remediation plan and its accompanying calculations and then by completing that plan, the State can bring the K-12 public education financing system into compliance with the adequacy requirement in Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution,” the decision read.

Therefore, the court stayed issuance of its order until June 30, 2019, to allow the legislature ample time to bring the school finance system into compliance.

See the full decision at the bottom of this story.

Reactions

Locally, Prairie Hills USD No. 113 Superintendent Todd Evans; District No. 62 Kansas House Representative Randy Garber, R-Sabetha; and District No. 1 Kansas Senator Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, responded to a Herald request for comment.

Superintendent Evans says part of the Kansas identity has been a strong education.

“I am thankful that the current legislation provides for increased resources for our kids. It is a relief that the Supreme Court ruled that the recent action by the Kansas Legislature is considered to be constitutional,” Evans said. “There have been many arguments against increasing education funding, but few or no solutions offered for solving the problem of constitutionality or of maintaining a strong educational system. I am confident that some minor adjustments to the formula by the 2019 legislature will bring us back into compliance.”

Representative Garber said the decision does not surprise him.

“They [Kansas Supreme Court justices] continue to attempt to legislate from the bench when there is no basis for their authority to do so in the Kansas Constitution,” Garber said. “They will continue this charade until the Legislature ignores their threat to close schools. The three branches of government all have certain responsibilities. The legislature’s task is to fund all government agencies without interference from seven unelected judges. In 1994 — USD 229 v. State of Kansas — the Kansas Supreme Court said the constitution doesn’t permit courts to set funding levels.”

Pyle also said this decision shows the need for a constitutional amendment.

“My constitutional amendment putting the issue of school closure solely in the hands of local school boards should be put before the people for a vote,” Pyle said. “The court has just given more reason and compelling evidence for the necessity of this proposal.”

Statewide, many organizations, government representatives and candidates weighed in following the decision. Included below are statements from current organization and government representatives.

Mark Tallman, associate executive director for advocacy and communications with the Kansas Association of School Boards, noted that KASB sees positives in the decision.

“KASB is glad that schools will open as scheduled, the court has provided sound direction in helping the Legislature finish its business and we look forward to working with legislators on resolving this issue,” Tallman said. “The court decision also points out the need for voters to remain engaged in the discussion over school finance.”

Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer said he is glad schools will stay open.

“When I became Governor earlier this year, I outlined my priorities for a school finance plan,” Colyer said. “Specifically, one that would keep our schools open, get more money into the classroom and improve student outcomes without raising taxes. And we got it done.”

“As a doctor, I know it is important to see continuous improvement. We will maintain a sharp focus on sending dollars to the classroom without raising taxes,” Colyer said. “I look forward to building upon the work we did together this year to address the remaining issues identified in the ruling.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said that while the decision had several positive attributes, he believes Kansans should be given the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment.

“Today’s brief and unanimous decision has several positive attributes: It affirms that the school-funding system is constitutionally equitable, approves of targeting new funding toward helping underperforming students, ensures Kansas schools remain open and operating this fall, flatly rejects the plaintiffs’ unreasonable demands for an additional $1 billion windfall, and provides a relatively clear path for the Legislature to reach what the Court will consider constitutionally adequate school funding,” Schmidt said. “Still, compliance with this order will require the Legislature to appropriate significantly more funding starting next year. I continue to believe that Kansans should be given the chance to vote on a constitutional amendment to indicate whether this litigation-driven funding system is really how they want school-funding decisions to be made.”

Kansas Secretary of State and candidate for governor Kris Kobach is calling for a constitutional amendment to end the school financing wars.

“The business of funding schools belongs with the representatives of the people — not seven, unelected judges,” Kobach said. “The Kansas Supreme Court’s Gannon decision today illustrates how the Court is now micromanaging every dollar spent on education even down to calculating adjustments for inflation.”

Kobach said lawmakers need to pass a constitutional amendment to end more than two decades of school finance lawsuits.

“The Court is acting in a matter that is far outside of its judicial role,” Kobach said. “The time has come for a constitutional amendment making clear the judiciary of Kansas may not determine education spending amounts.”

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 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.”

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 added 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. Oral argument at the Kansas Supreme Court were held in late May, and the Court released its sixth decision in the case on June 25, 2018.

Supreme Court Decision Text
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Amber Deters120 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.

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