How NOT to End the “Cycle of Litigation” and New Democrats in the Senate

Dec 12, 2018 by

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school funding was constitutionally both inadequate and inequitable, the Legislature passed bills in 2017 and 2018 that repealed the unconstitutional Brownback block grant funding scheme.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.

Click here to read the Wichita Eagle article.

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.

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Supreme Court Ruling Issued; SB 19 Inadequate and Inequitable

Oct 2, 2017 by

The Kansas Supreme Court issued its decision in the Gannon School Finance Lawsuit dealing a blow to the State and ruling that SB 19 is both inadequate and inequitable.

“As part of today’s ruling, it was noted that generations of Kansas students have been shortchanged.  The Court has made it clear that public education funding is no-longer to be a game of political football.”  Mark Farr, Kansas NEA President.

While the issue was initially focused on adequacy (there had been a ruling on equity last year), the Legislature made changes to several parts of the school finance formula that created additional equity problems.

On equity, the court ruled against four provisions in SB 19:

  1. Changes to capital outlay that expand the use of these funds for insurance expenditures,
  2. Changes to LOB that imposed different procedures on some school districts in accessing the maximum LOB,
  3. Changes to LOB that altered the equalization formula, and
  4. Changes to at-risk funding that provided that if a district had fewer than 10% of students on free lunch, it would receive funding as if it did have 10%.

The Court also noted that “equity” does not mean “equal.” The Court said,

As our test for measuring equity under Article 6, “School districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.” Gannon I, 298 Kan. at 1175. This test does not require that wealth-based disparities between districts be measured under a zero-tolerance test or other mathematically precise standard because “equity [is] not necessarily the equivalent of equality.” Gannon II, 303 Kan. at 710; see Gannon I, 298 Kan. at 1180, 1188. Instead, “[t]o violate Article 6, the disparities . . . must be unreasonable when measured by our test.” 298 Kan. at 1180.

On adequacy the Court ruled that the overall funding in the bill was indeed inadequate. The bill provided for a base state aid amount of $4006 in 2017-18, $4128 in 2018-19, and an inflation adjustment in the out-years. The Court declined to give a dollar amount that would meet constitutional muster but did indicate that the base amount provided by the state without creating more reliance on local levies was what was important.

The Court has given the Legislature a strict timeline for devising a remedy.

The ruling does not require a special legislative session (although it would be allowed). Instead, the ruling sets this timeline:

No later than April 30, 2018, the parties’ concurrent briefs addressing any legislative remedies of constitutional infirmities will be due in this court. Response briefs will be due May 10, and oral arguments will be conducted on May 22 at 9 a.m. The court’s decision will be communicated by June 30. Exceptions to this schedule will be made to accelerate the deadlines as needed in order to consider earlier remedial legislation—created by special session or otherwise.

In other words, the State has time to work but they won’t be permitted to drag things out.

In an interesting twist, the Court also suggested that the State could help itself by “showing its work.”

The State would help its case by “showing its work.” Gannon II, 303 Kan. at 743. This exercise involves considerably more than what it presented to this court in the instant appeal and in Gannon III. See 304 Kan. at 515. The State should identify other remedies that the legislature considered but, more important to meeting its burden, explain why it made its particular choice for reaching the constitutional standards for adequacy and equity.

“Educators have been calling for the Kansas Legislature to fully fund public schools according to the state constitution.  Taking a bi-partisan approach to tax policy and school funding is the only way to achieve full constitutional funding for the future.” Mark Farr, Kansas NEA President.

READ THE FULL DECISION HERE

 

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