The Days are Ticking Down

Feb 2, 2018 by

Way back when we reported here that Attorney General Derek Schmidt appeared before the House K-12 Education Budget Committee and urged them to finish their response to the Gannon school finance decision by March 1. Under the AG’s timeline, we are down to 26 more calendar days to finish – more specifically, there are only 14 more legislative days!

So what has happened since that request was made? The House K-12 Budget Committee has met four times and the Senate Select Committee on School Finance has not met at all. The House Education Committee has met seven times and held three bill hearings (none on school finance – that’s the job of the K-12 Budget Committee). The Senate Education Committee has met 14 times although they have not considered any bills.

This is not to say there are no finance bills at all. There are two sitting in the K-12 Budget Committee right now. HB 2445 addresses all four of the provisions in the school finance formula that have been found to be unconstitutional as to equity as well as a change in the transportation formula. HB 2561 simply fixes the transportation formula. Both bills were introduced by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) in an effort to move the process along but as of today neither has had a hearing. The Senate Education Committee also has a bill amending the transportation formula, SB 327 introduced by Senator Hensley (D-Topeka), but it has not had a hearing either.

It begs the question, is the legislature dragging its feet? Why is nothing being discussed that would lead to a bill addressing the Gannon decision?

One answer coming from conservatives is that they should just do nothing and wait for a new school funding study which has been contracted and is due on March 15. This seems to be the decision. We are not convinced this is a particularly good idea. First, March 15 is after the Attorney General’s requested deadline of March 1. Further, if they wait until they receive and digest a new cost study, will there be time to craft legislation, pass it, get it signed by the Governor, and sent to the Court with enough time to prepare briefs for an April 30 due date? It’s beginning to look suspiciously as if the legislature intends to ignore the Court’s deadline. And if they plan to meet that deadline, it’s hard to imagine a scenario that would let them “show their work” as part of defending their solution.

We have no problem with a new cost study. But we have a serious problem with defiance of the Supreme Court and the possibility that schools will not open next August.

We are looking for responsible leadership in the legislature. By all means get the new study and review it carefully. But waiting for a study without doing anything to solve the immediate problem is just wrong. There is no reason that the legislature can’t now put together a plan to resolve the school finance dilemma and then use a new cost study to adjust school finance going forward. The irresponsible thing to do is pretend that a new cost study will absolve them of the responsibility of adequately and equitably funding our schools – and keeping those schools open.

 

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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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