Republican Leaders Want to Toss Out the Constitutional School Finance System?
If we had a dollar for every time that Republican leadership in the Kansas House and Senate last year said they want to “end the cycle of litigation over school finance,” we would be retired today.
Of course, back then we thought nothing of these statements because we, too, want to see an end to the cycle of litigation because that means our schools would be both adequately and equitably funded. That’s what everyone wants – or so we thought.
This is why it came as such a surprise when we read in the Wichita Eagle that House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) told an audience in Johnson County that they were interested in tossing out last year’s school finance plan and starting completely over. Why? According the the Eagle article, it’s because “Republican leaders are skeptical the state could pay for the change and say the funding plan may need to be changed instead.”
In essence, they don’t want to fund schools adequately.
Here’s what we know about last year’s plan and the status of the current school finance litigation:
In response to an earlier Supreme Court ruling that school funding was constitutionally both inadequate and inequitable, the Legislature passed bills in 2017 and 2018 that repealed the unconstitutional Brownback block grant funding scheme.
The Court subsequently ruled that the new formula met the equity test but was still somewhat short of adequacy. The adequacy ruling was based on the fact that the phased-in increases in school funding did not account for inflation. Evidence showed that inflation would eat up about $90 million of increased funding in the out years of the plan. Essentially, a $100 million funding increase next year would only be a $10 million increase in funding after accounting for inflation.
The Court directed the Legislature to return and deal with the inflation issue.
Given that the Wagle/Denning school funding study conducted by Dr. Lori Taylor found the state to be shortchanging schools by as much as $2 billion, the Court’s call for dealing with inflation only after the additional $525 million provided by the Legislature seems modest. But apparently, Republican leaders are not interested in meeting the Court ruling.
There are two ways currently to end the cycle of litigation.
One is to address the inflation issue in the out years of the 2018 legislation and then provide an ongoing mechanism to maintain the funding level so established.
The other is the Ryckman/Denning way which is to ban litigation. They would rather just pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting school finance lawsuits and then not worry whether schools are adequately funded at all.
We believe that the best approach for the Legislature to take in 2019 is to first leave the constitutional school funding formula alone – why mess with the good work done to get a constitutional formula written and passed?
Then, address the inflation issue in last year’s legislation. Thanks to the hard work the Legislature did in reversing the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, revenues are coming in better than expected and adding the inflation increase is affordable.
Finally, resist the temptation of prohibiting the public from going to court. All citizens must have the option to go to court if they feel aggrieved and the court system must not be politicized. We must honor our system of checks and balances under which the Legislature makes the laws but the citizens can ask the court to review whether or not those laws are constitutional. The proposed constitutional amendment is a slippery slope which could result in dismantling the very system our founders envisioned and established.
Three New Democrats Coming to the Senate
The Senate Democratic Caucus will welcome three new members when they convene for the 2019 Legislative Session.
Two are replacements for newly elected Governor Laura Kelly and Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers.
Kelly, who is still technically the Kansas State Senator from SD 18 covering parts of Shawnee, Wabaunsee, and Pottawatomie Counties will be replaced by Vic Miller who is currently representing HD 58 in the Kansas House of Representatives. Rogers, currently the Kansas State Senator from SD 25 in Wichita, will be replaced by Mary Ware, a community activist from Wichita.
The third new Democratic Senator is a familiar face to those who watch the Kansas Legislature. Senator Barbara Bollier from Johnson County has switched party affiliations and will join the Democratic caucus. We can now officially say “Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills).”
With Bollier’s switch, the Democratic caucus increases by one member for 2019.
In a press release, Bollier had this to say of her decision, “I’ve been a proud Kansas Republican for 43 years. I always embraced the common-sense policies of Governor Bill Graves, US Senator Nancy Kassebaum, and President Eisenhower. But during the last eight years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with Republican leaders’ hardline rhetoric, contempt for compromise, and obsession with putting political power before children and families. With this recent election, it has become clear that the majority of the Republican Party does not accept moderate Republicans any longer.”
In welcoming Bollier to the Democratic caucus, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said, “She has been a longtime friend and respected colleague with the best interests of Kansas at heart. Her expertise, pragmatism, and courage enrich the entire Kansas Legislature — regardless of whether she calls herself a Democrat or Republican.”
Bollier has long been an advocate for health care, public schools, and pro-family policies. Bollier came into conflict with Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) over her endorsement of Laura Kelly for Governor and Democrat Tom Niermann for Congress. (Niermann lost the Democratic Primary to Sharice Davids who was elected to Congress in November.) Wagle stripped Bollier of important positions in the Senate – most notably her leadership position on the Committee on Public Health and Welfare. As the only physician in the Senate, Bollier was a natural fit for such an important committee.
Bollier has also been a staunch supporter and defender of public schools, students, and the educators who staff those schools. Bollier was a member of the Senate Education Committee.