School Finance and KPERS Under Discussion in the Statehouse

Dec 5, 2017 by

Rep. Blaine Finch, right, speaks during a meeting of a House-Senate committee starting work on the Legislature’s response to a court order on school funding. At left is Rep. Ed Trimmer.
CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN / KANSAS NEWS SERVICE

Starting to Talk About a School Finance Fix

The first meeting of the Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision (how’s that for a committee name!) met for the first time yesterday. They will meet again for two days on December 18 and 19 in advance of the 2018 legislative session.

Committee members are Rep. Blaine Finch, Chairman (R-Ottawa), Sen. Molly Baumgardner, Vice-Chair (R-Louisburg), Senators Jim Denning (R-Overland Park), Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka), Carolyn McGinn (R-Sedgwick), and Rick Wilborn (R-McPherson) and Representatives Larry Campbell (R-Olathe), Steven Johnson (R-Assaria), Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield), Troy Waymaster (R-Bunker Hill), and Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City). As Chairman, Finch runs a tight ship, sticking to the agenda and the timelines specified in the agenda.

Yesterday’s meeting was intended to bring everyone up to speed on the status of school finance with the passage of SB 19 (the Kansas School Equity and Enhancement Act or KSEEA) passed at the end of the 2017 session and the subsequent Supreme Court decision of October 2, 2017, in the Gannon school finance lawsuit. (Click here to see the powerpoint presentation used in the meeting.)

SB 19 created a new school finance formula that is very similar to the formula in effect prior to its repeal in favor of the Brownback block grants (the CLASS Act). It increased school funding by about $292 million. KSEEA also made several modifications to the equity provisions in the school finance law.

The Supreme Court on October 2, 2017, ruled that the KSEEA was unconstitutional both in terms of adequacy and equity. The Court noted that structurally, the bill was constitutional on adequacy but in implementation was unconstitutional. It was noted that the $292 million in new funding was an “outlier” when compared to other analyses – the Plaintiffs averaged the two cost studies done for the legislature and came up with a figure of $1.7 billion, the State Board of Education budget request was for $893 million, and the earlier 3-judge panel calculated $819 million. We should note that the original version of SB 19 as drafted by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) and Sen. Laura Kelly (D-Topeka) would have provided $750 million in new funding over three years.

The Court also found that four changes in the bill made funding less equitable. Specifically, they called out

  • a provision expanding the use of capital outlay funds,
  • a provision reinstating the protest petition to reach the maximum LOB,
  • a provision using the prior year’s LOB to determine equalization aid in the current year, and
  • a provision setting a 10% floor for the distribution of at-risk funds.

The Committee spent the morning reviewing all of this Court and legislative history.

In the afternoon, Finch led the committee in a discussion of what remedies might be options available to the legislature and what information the committee members would need to consider those options. Finch made it clear that nothing was off the table. Committee members should feel free to bring any ideas forward and suggesting a possible option would in no way imply an automatic endorsement of that option.

The discussion was guided by a memo from Fiscal Analyst John Hess of the Legislative Research Department (click here to read the memo). It was less about generating alternative options that it was seeking information to guide the committee. Information sought included:

  • how much of increased enrollment in our schools is due to virtual schools and students from out of state,
  • how much would need to be raised in taxes to meet the higher spending goals,
  • if new school funding was not found through revenue increases, what would across the board cuts to other programs look like, and
  • what are the implications/challenges of requiring all LOB increases to have been and continue to be subject to a protest petition?

The new data will be used in guiding discussions at the next meeting.

Challenges to KPERS Discussed in Committee

The Joint Committee on Pensions, Investments and Benefits met on Monday, November 27. On the surface, the committee’s agenda was at best perfunctory and at worse a forecast of another four or five hours listening to and digesting reports regarding Bond Proceeds and Valuation charts while sitting on wooden chairs.

But wait, there is more.

In the background of most any meeting at the Statehouse lurks the issue of school funding. Where will the legislature find the revenue to appropriately fund schools? We know some legislators have taken a stand against raising taxes to increase funding for schools and some are against complying with the Supreme Court ruling at all.  These factors leave the path to solving the school finance problem somewhat murky at best.

So, where does the legislature find additional revenue without raising taxes or cutting other vital programs?

The legislature has already used up the Bank of KDOT (the highway fund). What money could possibly be available to help solve the school finance issue? How about the bank of KPERS?

The legislature cannot legally take money from KPERS that has been deposited in the system, so that money is safe. BUT, they can reduce the funding stream to KPERS to offset money needed to fund schools appropriately. Much like robbing the armored car filled with deposits on the way to the bank, the legislature could take the money BEFORE it is deposited into the system. Appropriations to KPERS can be reduced as they have been in the past. The legislature has a history of reducing KPERS payments to fund government when revenues do not meet expectations. KPERS payments were diminished to help fund government responsibilities during the failed Brownback tax cuts.

Here is what we know from the reports submitted at the committee meeting:

  • Current KPERS retirees and actives will receive their benefits. Current earnings on KPERS accounts are equal to or greater than current payments to KPERS retirees.
  • The State/School statutory employer contribution has been below the actuarially required funding for 24 years – meaning the legislature has underfunded KPERS for 24 years.
  • The payment of the FY 2016 employer (the state) contribution reduction ($97.4 million plus promised interest) that was scheduled to be paid on June 30, 2018, was eliminated.
  • FY 2017 employer (the state) contributions were reduced by $64 million but will be repaid over 20 years starting in FY 2018. The first payment has already been made.
  • FY 2019 employer (the state) contributions are reduced by $194 million but will be repaid over 20 years starting in FY 2020.
  • The state needs to pay $623 million each year to stay even regarding their commitment to funding KPERS and not add to the underfunding of the KPERS system.

The KPERS system is currently in better shape than it has been in past years due to excellent investments and returns by the KPERS staff, the influx of bond money, and the increased contribution rates by the state and current active members.

The question posed by one of the committee members highlights the situation. “What would the legislature’s payment to KPERS be if we had paid our bill?”  Remember, it currently requires $623 million just to stay even and not put KPERS further in debt. The answer is, if the legislature had paid what was owed to KPERS, they would be making a $100 million payment each year instead of something north of $623 million.

We are already currently paying bills due for previous year’s lack of payment to KPERS. A generation is considered to be 20 years. The legislature has underfunded KPERS for the last 24 years. We are the next generation paying the bills for the last generation. We have the clear feeling that this legislature is desperate for money due to the school funding decision. If they kick the KPERS debt can further down the road, it will be our grandchildren and great-grandchildren paying the bill for the current/near future actions of the legislature. Add to that scenario the Brownback tax cuts and we can see upfront and personally the cost of those “cuts”.

Clearly, it is not appropriate for the legislature to reduce their commitment and contributions at a time when the KPERS system is just now returning to fiscal health.

 

 

 

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What about now? And what happens next?

Oct 5, 2017 by

If SB 19 is unconstitutional, what about the new funding our schools are getting?

“Within These Walls the Balance of Justice Weighs Equal.”

You may be wondering what immediate impact Monday’s Kansas Supreme Court ruling will have on your school and district. We’ll try to clear things up as much as possible.

First, you may wonder about how this impacts the new money received under SB 19 now that SB 19 has been found to not meet constitutional requirements. There should be no significant impact on funding. The Court has not stopped the state from providing the funding specified in SB 19 and schools should continue to be funded just as they have been from the start of this school year.

There will also be no impact for this school year based on the four equity issues raised as unconstitutional by the Court. For example, if your district has already shifted some insurance payments to the capital outlay fund thereby freeing up a few dollars for other purposes, that may continue until June 30, 2018. The 10% floor for at-risk funding which has been ruled unconstitutional will also continue for this school year but not into the next. This would only impact two districts in the state so will have no effect on most of you.

If your local association and board of education are still seeking a contract settlement, the funding in SB 19 should not be holding up such a settlement – your district has the funding promised in SB 19 for this school year. But since the Court has ruled the overall level of funding to be inadequate, it is safe to assume that there will be more money in the next school year than was provided in SB 19.

Was this a unanimous decision? Was there no dissent?

This was indeed a unanimous decision on both issues of adequacy and equity, however, there were dissenting opinions on the timelines within the decision.

The Court majority has determined that the Legislature will have the 2018 regular legislative session in which to resolve the issues raised in the decision. As we reported Monday, they will not allow the Legislature to drag its feet and set specific early dates for briefs to be filed and oral arguments to be presented. The Legislature will not be able to string out the process until the very end of the session.

Justices Johnson and Rosen, while agreeing with the rulings on both adequacy and equity, dissented on the timeline preferring that the Court would require a remedy by the end of 2017. Justice Biles also agreed with the rulings on both adequacy and equity but dissented on allowing the unconstitutional equity provisions to continue until the end of the school year preferring that those issues be blocked from implementation immediately.

So, what happens next?

For right now, schools can operate “business as usual.” Nothing is being stopped or taken away; the Court specifically stayed their order until June 30, 2018.

The Court has directed the Legislators and Plaintiffs in the case to submit concurrent briefs by April 30 and response briefs by May 10. This means that the legislative remedy needs to be created, passed, and signed into law in time to meet the April 30 deadline. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for May 22, 2018, and the Court will issue a ruling on or before June 30, 2018.

The Court justified their hard deadlines by saying,

With that regrettable history in mind, [that the K-12 system has been underfunded for many years] while we stay the issuance of today’s mandate through June 30, 2018, 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. Cf. Campbell County School Dist., 32 P.3d at 332-33 (cited in Gannon II, 303 Kan. at 739). See Gannon IV, 305 Kan. at 919.

They are saying, in essence, that a delay that makes rendering a new decision prior to June 30 impossible, will not be tolerated. They expect to be given time to consider the new remedy, hear arguments, and deliberate and not be put in a position like this year when the bill was finished so late, they had little choice but to let it go into effect pending the Court hearing.

We would expect that between now and the start of the 2018 legislative session, legislators on all sides of the issue will take an opportunity to attack someone for the position they’ve put themselves in. Some will berate the Court for imposing its will on the Legislature; others will go after Brownback and his legislative allies for crippling the state’s revenue stream so there was no money for schools, and some will say that this is exactly what they expected.

We hope the posturing will be finished soon (you’re probably reading all about it in your local paper now) and that cooler heads will start thinking about solutions. SB 19, in the form first drafted by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) and Senator Laura Kelly (D-Topeka), represented a bipartisan effort and was an excellent start that was eventually whittled down and then loaded up with inequitable policy provisions. We know there are legislators on both sides of the aisle willing to meet their constitutional obligation.

It’s going to take work and courage.   We’ve stated previously that any solution would require the Legislature to address the state’s revenue crisis and that solving the school funding problem requires sensible tax policy.  While we’ve made significant strides in the right direction, we need to understand that fixing the mess left by Governor Brownback and his allies will be a marathon and not a sprint.  Yet, the framework for a solution is there and a solution can be crafted. It will take additional revenue and it will take a desire to stay away from inequitable policies. We look forward to working with legislators to get the job done. Kansas simply cannot afford to delay any longer.

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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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Court Hears Arguments in School Finance

Jul 18, 2017 by

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

The Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments from the State and the Plaintiffs in the Gannon school finance lawsuit this morning. It was wrapped up before noon at which time the Court said they would take the arguments under consideration. How long that consideration will last is anyone’s guess, but they have said they will act in an expedited manner.

Most observers believe the state had the harder time before the Court. Justices pressed the attorneys for the state, Stephen McAllister and Jeff King, about why the legislature chose to base funding levels on the “successful schools model” even going so far as to suggest this was a decision based not on appropriate funding but backing into a lower cost model.

Justices also appeared skeptical about the state’s reliance on LOB (local option budget) funds as foundational funding for schools. This has been a position advocated for by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville).

Asked whether or not the Court should let the state off the hook- so to speak- King called upon the Court to allow the new law three years to see if it could do the job. The Justices appeared to have little interest in waiting three years to decide if the legislature has done the right thing.

There seemed to be little questioning on the school finance model adopted in SB 19 except for a couple of questions regarding equity. Specifically concerning the expansion of what could be paid for under capital outlay and the 10% floor for at-risk funding allowing districts with fewer than 10% free and reduced lunch students to receive at-risk funding as if they had 10%.

Now the waiting starts. We will watch for the Court’s decision over the next few weeks. For more reaction on today’s hearing, see the following news report.

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Supreme Court: Schools May Open Under New Finance Bill

Jun 20, 2017 by

http://www.workingjournalistpress.com/articles/170302/Gannon-Case-Supreme-Court-opinion-released.php

The Kansas Supreme Court yesterday announced that Kansas public schools will be allowed to open under the finance plan passed by the Legislature in Senate Bill 19. This is not, however, to mean that they believe the new formula to be adequate or constitutional. That decision will be made later.

In making the announcement, the Court set July 18 as the hearing day for the new formula. The State will argue that SB 19 fully complies with the Gannon decision, while the plaintiffs will argue that it is inadequate in funding and contains a number of provisions that jeopardize equity. After hearing arguments from both sides, the Court will deliberate before making a ruling on the issues at hand. While the Court has said they will expedite this case, there is no telling how long their deliberations might take before a decision is reached.

Obviously, this means that there will not be a July special legislative session. If the Court rules against the State, there is still the possibility of a fall special session or the Legislature could be given the 2018 regular legislative session to address any shortcomings.

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