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.



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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

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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Brownback Signs School Finance Bill

Jun 16, 2017 by

Governor Brownback took his time about it, but yesterday he finally signed SB 19, the new school finance proposal passed by the House and Senate.

Of course, in his signing statement, he had to take the opportunity to complain about the Legislature’s work product saying, “The Legislature missed an opportunity to substantially improve the K-12 funding system.” We suppose he still preferred his unconstitutional block grant system that froze funding thereby helping to pay for his tax cuts for the wealthiest Kansans.

But if Brownback won’t, we will give the Legislature credit for listening, debating, sometimes arguing and eventually coming to a consensus about this new proposed formula. House K-12 Budget Committee Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) spent the entire session with his committee researching, hearing testimony, studying data and coming to the conclusion that the “old” formula was not terribly flawed and simply needed some adjustments. The House bill was then the framework that Senate Select Committee on School Finance Chairman Jim Denning used with his committee members to guide their work.

Whether this plan fully complies with the Supreme Court order or not, we have to give kudos to the legislators of both chambers who spent the time to do this work and do it conscientiously. The Governor is flat out wrong in his assessment of this as a “missed opportunity.”

We believe that when the Supreme Court is done with their review, they will find the finance formula in SB 19 by and large to be constitutional. There are a couple of issues in the bill that might give them concern- particularly around equalization- but the bill does target funding to the students who need the most help and does so in a rational manner.

We also believe that the Supreme Court will likely rule that the funding is not adequate – particularly after the first year.

Remember when we say this that the only people who get to decide are the members of the Court! We can only speculate.

What might the Court do?

The Court could simply rule that SB 19 does not adequately address Gannon and send the Legislature back to the drawing board in a special session.

Another possibility is that the Court approves the formula, perhaps putting a stay on one or two items as “disequalizing,” but call the funding inadequate and send the Legislature back to work in a special session.

A third possibility is that the Court approves the formula, approves the first year of funding, and gives the Legislature another year to address the adequacy of funding in the out years.

What we do know is that there is June 30 deadline. The Court has said they will take this case on an expedited basis. Between now and the deadline, they will need to hear the State’s defense and the Plaintiff’s arguments. Don’t look for this process to be a couple of days and done!

Guns: Coming to a College Near You This July

The Governor also announced that he would allow the newest gun bill to become law without his signature because the Legislature did not cave to the NRA-written “compromise” on guns in state mental hospitals.

State Hospitals, the KU Medical Center, and all public colleges and universities in Kansas have until July 1, 2017, to either provide metal detectors and security personnel at all entrances or allow concealed firearms to by carried by anyone anywhere anytime – no permit or training necessary.

Several times this session legislators tried to get the law changed for colleges and universities but despite overwhelming public support for allowing colleges to restrict firearms, the NRA demanded blind obedience to their position that guns should be everywhere and the legislation never moved.

It wasn’t until Brownback – who enthusiastically signed the bill opening mental hospitals and colleges to guns – asked for $24 million to secure entrances to mental hospitals for one year that people realized the full extent of meeting the requirement. A bill was then drafted to allow hospitals to ban weapons but the NRA stepped in to fight the bill. Seeing it would likely pass, the NRA then drafted an amendment that would not make them have security but instead allow guns in reception and parking lots, but the hospital would have to provide gun lockers for anyone with a gun seeking to go into patient areas.

In fighting for this amendment, one Senator actually said: “this is the amendment the NRA will allow us to adopt.” Despite the NRA “permission,” the Legislature passed the bill giving hospitals the right to regulate guns on hospital property. This was a loss for the NRA, and this is why the Governor only reluctantly will allow the bill to become law without his signature.

And for those of you working in our technical colleges, community colleges, and universities, it looks like guns will be a reality in your classrooms starting July 1.

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The Session is Over, But the Court Must Still Rule

Jun 12, 2017 by

The 2017 Legislative session came to a close on Saturday night with the adoption by both chambers of the final budget conference committee report. There was little specific to public schools in the budget as the K-12 budget is contained in the school finance plan passed earlier (SB 19).

The worst bit of news in the budget bill is that the conferees did not agree to any provision to pay back the money deferred from KPERS. While this action does not jeopardize KPERS retiree benefits, it undoes some of the work done over the past few years to bring KPERS back into fiscal health by reducing the unfunded actuarial liability.

As we look at the work of the 2017 Legislature, it is a good exercise to measure that work against our own KNEA Legislative Agenda.

There are four components to the KNEA Legislative agenda: Taxation, School Finance, Support for Educators, and Advocating a Bright Future for All Kansans.

In the area of Taxation, under income tax we scored a major victory with the passage of SB 30 and subsequent veto override. Every goal we stated under income tax was achieved. The “march to zero” or “glide path” was repealed as was the LLC income tax loophole. The income tax has been restored as the foundation of a balanced tax system, and a new higher income tax bracket was added restoring progressivity to the system.

Our positions on sales tax (lowering the food rate and dealing with sales tax exemptions) while not achieved were included in bills and amendments to bills and all had hearings during the session. Sales tax exemptions on some services were even voted upon. We can report that progress has been made in addressing important sales tax issues.

We also support the repeal of property tax caps on local units of government, an issue that was not resolved this year.

Finally, we support a full repeal of the corporate tuition tax credit program. While this did not happen this year, we had one success as well as one loss in this program. All schools receiving scholarship students must be accredited (for the win) but the credit is now available to individuals (for the loss).

In the area of School Finance, the passage of SB 19 assures that the unconstitutional block grant system is now history. Senate bill 19, for the most part, meets the criteria for a formula that we included in our legislative agenda.While the new formula does not fully fund the excess costs of special education, it does provide additional special education funding. We are especially pleased that it funds all-day kindergarten and provides some funding for pre-school programs. And fortunately, other pre-K programs were protected with the decision to reject the securitization of the tobacco settlement money which funds those programs today.

SB 19 provides two years of funding increases to public education which must be tested by the Supreme Court for adequacy. We do not believe the funding to be adequate to the challenge of Gannon and will be anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court review.

In the area of Support for Educators, we are happy to report that for the first time in many years, there were no attacks on the teaching profession debated in this session! That in and of itself is a major victory and it is in large part thanks to the work KNEA members did in supporting the election of more moderate Republicans and Democrats to the legislature.

Our only loss in this area was the decision to not repay the funds deferred from KPERS. And while we did not manage to get due process protections restored, we did get the restoration through the House with a very strong bipartisan vote. Unfortunately, the Senate never took the issue up and our last chance was an amendment to the school finance bill brought by Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (D-Prairie Village) that was ruled to be not germane to the bill and so was not considered. The votes in the House this year give us hope for the future.

In the area of Advocating a Bright Future for All Kansans, we must report that while we have not won on our issues, we have not lost ground either.

We were delighted to see the expansion of Medicaid pass both chambers and then disheartened with the Governor’s decision to veto it. We are sorry that the Legislature was unable to muster enough votes to override the veto.

Worst of all, despite the best efforts of many legislators, parents, faculty, students, and organizations including KNEA, the Legislature bowed to the NRA and refused to restore control of firearms to our Kansas colleges and universities. Beginning on July 1, 2017, our colleges and universities must either provide metal detectors and security personnel at all entrances or allow anyone to carry a concealed firearm anywhere on campus. Despite overwhelming support from the communities, NRA money and threats continue to carry the day.

So all-in-all, when examined in light of the KNEA Legislative Agenda, this was a very good session for public schools and public school teachers.

So, It’s Over But It’s Not Over…

As we write this today, Governor Brownback has SB 19, the school finance bill, on his desk. What we don’t know is his plan for that bill. Will he sign it? Will he veto it? Will he just let it sit there for ten days until it becomes law without his signature?

Our frustration is that every day that passes is a day less the Supreme Court has for review before the June 30 deadline.

If he vetoes the bill, the Legislature will have an opportunity on June 26 during their ceremonial sine die closing to consider an override vote but by then we are only four days from the deadline.

We are working with KNEA Legal staff to examine the various scenarios that could play out depending on a signature or a veto, an adverse court ruling or a special legislative session. Stay tuned for further KNEA reports as things play out.

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