School finance issues take front and center.

Mar 12, 2019 by

So far in the run-up to the Kansas Supreme Court hearing on the legislature’s response to the Gannon school finance ruling, the Senate has been making some progress.

The Senate Select Committee on School Finance held a hearing on Governor Kelly’s school funding bill, Senate Bill 44, earlier in the session. They did not work that bill but instead split it in two. Senate Bill 142 contains the provisions dealing with the inflation factor called for in the Court decision; Senate Bill 147 is the remainder of the education budget (about 98% of all funding).

A hearing was held on SB 142. It was passed out of committee and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. The provisions in this bill are exactly the same as those in SB 44. SB 147 is being discussed now in the Senate Ways and Means Committee and we would anticipate it will be out soon.

At the moment, the best action to take would be to pass both SB 142 and SB 147 and send them to the Attorney General so he can prepare for the Court hearing.

As we have reported here before, we are not certain that SB 142 will meet the Court ruling. There are two interpretations of the ruling – one held by Schools for Fair Funding and another by the State Board of Education. It would serve the state well to get a bill over to the Court for consideration.

The combination of SB 142 and SB 147 represent a responsible action in response to the Court. They will not jeopardize the constitutionally-sound formula that equitably distributes funding and there is a chance that the Court will accept the inflation increase.

And then there’s the House.

House K-12 School Budget Committee chair Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) revealed her response to education funding. This bill, House Bill 2395, represents a wish list of extreme conservative policy agenda promulgated over the years by former Speaker Mike O’Neal and Kansas Policy Institute’s Dave Trabert.

In Williams’ bill there are many changes to the school finance formula and there are numerous accountability and accounting changes. In this case, accountability means requiring districts and the KSDE to post links on webpages. There are changes to bilingual education and at-risk education. It strips the requirement for reimbursing 92% of the excess costs of special education. It includes the vouchers for alleged bullying bill- remember the one heard in Williams’ committee earlier in the session that would give kids a voucher for even reporting bullying but would do nothing to actually address bullying. This bill with all of its log-rolled policy is over 100 pages long!

As for the Gannon response, this bill provides two years of base increases instead of the four in the other bills, bringing base state aid up to a lower amount than in SB 142. And then it removes the language placing a Consumer Price Index adjustment in the future, meaning, there would be no commitment to maintaining school funding in the future.

There is a lot to dislike in HB 2395 and more than enough reasons to vote NO including the fact that the Gannon response in this bill is almost certain to be rejected by the Court.

If the Legislature truly wants to end the cycle of litigation, the way is clear. The best thing to do right now is to take the Senate approach. Pass SB 142 and SB 147; let the Attorney General get to work and see what happens in the next hearing before the Supreme Court.

Underfunding in response to the Court’s ruling, ending future inflation factors, messing with the formula all while granting a wish list of deeply conservative policies intended to put more pressure on schools and students would take us backward.

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