Consultants Present School Finance Study

Mar 19, 2018 by

Conservatives who demanded that the Legislature take no action on school finance until a new cost study was available – a study conducted under their parameters by a consultant that they chose – are now trying to distance themselves from that study and discredit it.

It was conservative Republicans who insisted on doing a new cost study, arguing that the prior studies by Augenblick and Myers and the Legislative Post Audit were outdated. “You can’t take such old studies and just adjust them for inflation!” they cried. “Times have changed!”

And so, over the objections of the Democrats, Republican House and Senate Leadership approved hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire two attorneys and a consultant to conduct a new cost study. They chose a consultant, Dr. Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University, to conduct the study and Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) told the Wichita Eagle that they had hired a consultant to demonstrate that the state was adequately funding schools.

“We’re focused on finding experts who can help show the court that funding is adequate,” Susan Wagle, R-Wichita (Wichita Eagle, Feb. 23, 2018). 

A lot of people who work under the dome thought that was just what the Legislature would get; that Taylor had been hired to give Wagle what she wanted. Republican leaders held up all discussion of school funding and a response to Gannon in anticipation of this study. See this from an article in Lawrence Journal-World on March 11, 2018:

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, also rejected the idea that the results of the study were predetermined.

“They’re unfounded in that,” he said. “We have no idea what she’s going to come back with. But we know that we have to update the study.”

Denning said the estimates that Kansas needs to add upwards of $600 million to its education budget are largely based on cost estimates done in 2002 and 2003, during an earlier school finance lawsuit, with those figures simply updated for inflation.

Today, though, Denning was leading the attack to reject or discredit the report. He challenged it on the performance thresholds that were being used, suggesting that use of the approved state ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) plan was not appropriate. In other words, if we lower our performance goals, we could lower the cost of education.

Denning even went so far at one point as to refer to the study as “simply an academic exercise, not a financial one.” Still, it was an “academic exercise” that Denning was hanging his hat on earlier as a way to block increases in education funding.

Conservatives have for years been swayed by the rhetoric of Dave Trabert and the Kansas Policy Institute. In fact, if the state had a dollar for every time Trabert said “money doesn’t matter” or “schools are terribly inefficient,”  there might have been enough money in the treasury to pay for this study.

Instead, the report specifically says this about funding increases:

“…a one percentage point increase in academic performance is associated with a 5 percent increase in cost. Similarly, a one percentage point increase in the graduation rate is associated with a 1.2 percent increase in cost at lower grades and a 1.9 percent increase in cost at the high school level.”  (page 61)

As for efficiency, the report noted that “the average cost efficiency score was 0.956, indicating that buildings were producing nearly 96% of the potential output, on average.” (page 63) And one slide in Dr. Taylor’s presentation said, “Systematically school districts are exceedingly good at the efficient use of their resources.”

What Can We Expect Moving Forward?

The report still needs to be fully digested by legislators. We can expect that talks will begin soon about how best to address the Gannon decision in light of this new report.

We would anticipate that conservative legislators will launch an effort to discredit the report or consider other ways to bring down costs. Denning, as we said earlier, has already hinted at reducing the state’s performance goals and referred to the study as simply an “academic exercise.”

Conservatives might also renew their calls for constitutional amendments either limiting the state’s responsibility for education funding or stripping the Supreme Court of the authority to act.

Since the consultants also suggest a longer timeline for phasing funding in, cooler heads will likely begin to discuss how long that might be as well as how to lock in increases over time even as membership in the legislature changes. It is often noted that today’s legislative decisions are not binding on future legislatures.

The study will give conservatives more to complain about but might also give Democrats and Moderates just the boost they need to put together a coalition plan to meet the Gannon ruling.

But no matter what, they need to get cracking! Briefs are due to the Supreme Court on April 30!

read more

New School Finance Study Released

Mar 16, 2018 by

The new school finance cost study contracted by the legislature was released at 1:00 today and, contrary to the expectations of those who thought the consultant was hired to demonstrate that the state was spending adequately on Kansas schools, the study appears to confirm what education advocates have been saying for some time.

While there is still much reading and analysis ahead of us, it appears that, at a minimum, the state needs an additional $500 million in education funding.

Dr. Lori Taylor and Jason Willis, the lead authors will be in Topeka on Monday to discuss the study with the members of the House K-12 Budget Committee and the Senate Select Committee on School Finance. At that time we hope to get more details of the study.

There are some problems in the report including a misalignment of school districts with their accompanying weighting indices. Additionally, there is at least one missing table of data.

Over the next few days we will be pouring over the report and reviewing all the math including the factors that are included in their “teacher salary index.”

If you would like to read the study for yourself, you can find it by clicking here.

KNEA Testifies in Favor of School Safety and Security Bill

The Appropriations Committee held a hearing today on HB 2773, a partial response to the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida.

HB 2773 requires the State Board of Education to work with other state agencies to establish standards for school security and school safety plans. It requires schools to assess current security in their buildings and to develop safety plans in cooperation with law enforcement. The bill provides $5 million in grant money that schools may apply for to upgrade security systems. Finally, it includes the gun safety program as an opportunity for all students.

No school is required to offer gun safety training and while the NRA’s Eddie Eagle is recommended, other programs such as the 4-H program are allowed.

In testimony, KNEA noted that the bill was very well intended and worthy of passage but urged the committee not to consider this to be a solution to the problems of assaults and mass shootings in our society. Lobbyist Mark Desetti raised asked the committee to also consider gun laws in Kansas and mental health programs.

“We hope you might look inside yourself, look in the eyes of a child, and ask, ‘Have we gone too far?’ said Desetti. “We saw this week that the youth of this state and this nation think perhaps you have.”

read more

Colyer’s “State of the State,” The Annual Dyslexia Debate

Feb 8, 2018 by

Governor Colyer Gives His State of the State Address

He’s not staking out a solid position on school funding

Governor Jeff Colyer addressed a joint meeting of the House and Senate yesterday to outline his vision for Kansas. He addressed seven broad areas that he hopes the state can deal with:

  1. freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace (and particularly in the statehouse),
  2. transparency in government,
  3. abortion,
  4. job creation and in particular the aircraft industry,
  5. the crises in our foster care and mental health systems,
  6. healthcare, and
  7. public education.

On the first two issues, he lauded the efforts being made by the legislature so far in the 2018 legislative session and even suggested that the package of transparency measures introduced by Democrats are deserving of support.

“A group of legislators, led by Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and House Minority Leader Jim Ward, have put forth several transparency proposals as well. Many of you are working hard on this issue, and your efforts deserve recognition and support.”

Colyer also announced four transparency measures that his administration will take including no longer charging Kansans for open records requests of less than 100 pages, ensuring the Administration relies on official email accounts to conduct state business, instituting performance metrics for Cabinet Agencies so Kansans can see how they perform, and launching a website to serve as a one-stop-shop for Cabinet Agencies to post open meetings, locations and materials.

The healthcare issue may be most challenging for Colyer – or may be an issue where he departs from his past positions – because he was a leader under former Governor Brownback in the establishment of the troubled KanCare system and refusal to expand Medicaid.

We, of course, were waiting for what he had to say about education and addressing the Gannon decision. We were hoping that he would lead on this issue. The Legislature, as you know, appears to be stalled or simply refusing to seriously talk about the issue while the Court deadline and the deadline set by the Attorney General are rapidly approaching.

Unfortunately, Colyer gave little direction to the Legislature about what he would sign except to provide a “framework” of four broad thoughts he wants to see in the solution. He called upon the legislature to keep our schools open, permanently end school finance litigation, phase-in increased funding, and demand accountability and improved outcomes. Missing in his message was any mention of the level of increased funding he believes is needed.

Here then is the full text of his remarks on education (to read the entire address, click here):

Finally, and perhaps the most pressing question in many of your minds, where will we go on education? And before we get to the elephant in the room, let me first thank you to the legislature for the remarkable investments you have made in early childhood education. Early childhood education works.

On my first day as governor, I had the opportunity to visit a public school in my hometown of Hays. I want you to know that your Governor is a supporter of public education. In Kansas, we invest in our schools, not because a court tells us to, but because we want to invest in our children and our future. We invest in teachers because they invest in our kids. We support things like the Kansans Can Redesign program because we are willing to do hard things for the youth of this state.

And now I want you to think about something. Governor Bob Docking, Governor Bob Bennett, Governor John Carlin, Governor Mike Hayden, Governor Joan Finney, Governor Bill Graves, Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Governor Mark Parkinson, Governor Sam Brownback, and Governor Jeff Colyer. The last ten Governors of Kansas. Five Democrats and Five Republicans. Fifty years and counting. That’s longer than the Cold War. All ten governors have had the specter of education lawsuits overshadowing education. This must end now.

To some in politics, leadership is about being a bully or being the loudest, shrillest voice in the room. To others, it’s about staking out a position and never compromising. To me, leadership is about setting a vision and bringing people together to achieve common goals. And, as a former legislator, I know that you don’t appreciate being told what to do by a governor or anyone else for that matter. And I think the reaction to a recent State of the State address is plenty evidence of that.

What I learned from President Reagan is that we develop principles that allow us to resolve our issues. As the sign on his desk and now mine says, “It can be done.” With that in mind, I will offer a framework that I hope you can see fit to support:

  1. We must keep our schools open.
  2. We need a definitive solution that ends the school finance lawsuits FOR GOOD.
  3. Increased investments in K-12 Education must come through a phased-in approach that doesn’t increase the tax burden on Kansas families and ensures schools can effectively allocate any new funds they receive.
  4. Lastly, and most importantly, we must insist on accountability and improved outcomes.

I will sign school finance legislation that meets these objectives. This will not be easy, but public servants and leaders are not called to make the easy choices. We’re here to do the right thing, and the right thing is never easy.

House Education Committee Hears Bill on Mandatory Dyslexia Screening

The House Education Committee held its annual dyslexia hearing, this time on HB 2602 which would mandate screening all children for dyslexia.

Proponents generally blasted the public schools as knowing little about dyslexia, of refusing to provide support to children with dyslexia, and of not talking to or listening to parents. Opponents including USA, KASB, and Special Education Directors countered with all of the efforts being made on behalf of children under both Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and IDEA.

KNEA testified as neutral on the bill, raising concerns about its vagueness.

The bill seems to suggest that all students shall be screened for dyslexia. There are, however, questions left unanswered.

  • Are all students to be screened annually or is this a screening upon enrollment only? Is there an intent for there to be additional screenings later?
  • If all students are to be screened as a matter of course, are schools prepared to conduct such screenings? Are there enough trained personnel in our schools to handle such screenings in a timely manner?
  • If a school district screening suggests the child has dyslexia and the district then suggests that the student be evaluated by “a licensed physician, psychologist or psychiatrist” does the school district then have any obligation to pay for a follow-up evaluation?

In oral testimony, KNEA also took issue with the proponents’ complaints that schools and teachers do not advocate for children. KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti cited his own experience as both a teacher of 13 years and a parent of four children, one of whom was diagnosed with dyslexia. “Teachers,” said Desetti, “are the best advocates for your children inside the school building. They routinely argue on behalf of struggling students and often butt heads with principals and special education directors in demanding support services for those students.”

Desetti, as well as Rep. Steven Crum (D-Haysville) and Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) noted that teachers in Kansas can now be non-renewed for battling with administration or the school board. Perhaps it is time to restore due process for Kansas teachers so that they can continue to advocate for the needs of their students.

read more

Wagle, Ryckman Launch Diversionary Attack on Deputy Ed Commissioner Dale Dennis

Jan 25, 2018 by

GOP Leaders Demand that Dale Dennis be Suspended

Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) and House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) sent a strongly worded letter to Jim Porter, Chairman of the State Board of Education demanding that the Board put Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis and other KSDE staff members on administrative leave and calling for an investigation into whether or not Dennis violated the state law on school transportation funding.

At issue is the distribution of funds in addition to the regular transportation formula that has been done annually for many years so that children in high-density school districts can safely transport children to school. (Look below for a more detailed explanation of the issue.)

The action of Wagle and Ryckman is making a mountain out of a molehill. The practice has been addressed many times in open legislative committees and never hidden from legislators. Legislators have struggled for years with the transportation formula and this practice was initiated long ago in order to provide safe routes to school.

Further, Wagle and Ryckman are interfering in the operation of the State Department of Education which functions under the State Board of Education. SBOE Chairman Jim Porter made this point clear to the Lawrence Journal-World saying, “It is not the responsibility of the Legislature to staff the Department of Education.”

Anyone involved with education in Kansas knows Dale Dennis as a man of integrity, a man who serves the Department and advises the Legislature on issues of school finance – and has done so for many years. This perhaps is why members of House and Senate are coming to his defense.

Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville), Chairman of the House Education Committee, has issued a statement saying, “I have worked closely with Kansas Dept. of Education, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis and have found him to be consistently straightforward, diligent, and honest. I have deep respect for him and trust in his work.”

It seems so far that Wagle and Ryckman have little support. So far the only person publicly supporting the Wagle/Ryckman demands is Secretary of State and Gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach.

Take Action!

We urge all our readers to call their representative and Senator and ask if they support the Wagle/Ryckman attack on Dale Dennis. We also urge you to contact your State Board of Education member and urge him/her to support Dale and reject the demands of Wagle and Ryckman.  Tell your elected officials to end their politically-motivated overreach!  The State Board of Education will meet tomorrow afternoon starting at 1:00 to consider their response and action.

KNEA, KASB, USA, KSSA, and AFT Issue Joint Statement in Support of Dale Dennis.



The Post Audit and the Transportation Funding Question

According to an analysis of the transportation formula conducted by the Division of Post Audit, the formula is adjusted using a “statistical curve of best fit.”

“…a statistical “curve of best fit” is used to estimate per student transportation costs based on student density. Student density is the number of students who live at least 2.5 miles from a school divided by the square mileage of the district. Each district’s per-student cost (calculated in the previous step) and density are plotted on a graph. Statistical regression techniques are used to determine a “curve of best fit” through the data points. This curve represents the estimated per-student cost of providing transportation services at each density point.” (Performance Audit Report R-17-020, December 2017, p 8)

This has been done outside of the statutory transportation formula. The LPA found that

“Over the past five years, KSDE’s minimum funding level has provided a total of $45 million more in transportation funding than allowed by law. Figure 1-2 shows the effects of KSDE’s minimum funding level for high-density districts in each of the last five years. As the figure shows, districts have received a total of $8.0 million to $11.5 million in additional funding each year for the last five years.” (Performance Audit Report R-17-020, December 2017, p 13)

The Kansas Department of Education provided an explanation of how this came to be.

“The following is a historical explanation for how we arrived at the current line of best fit. Many years ago, at a time the Legislature was discussing the school finance formula, they were making every effort to not discriminate against high-density school districts. KSDE staff was called to the State Capitol and told that the purpose and intent were for KSDE to flatten out the line of best fit so that it would not be disadvantageous to those school districts with high-density per pupil. At that time, legislators were having difficulty defining in writing the line of best fit for high-density school districts. However, they verbally provided KSDE with their definition of line of best fit.

The theory legislators had at that time was to split the line of best fit for high-density school districts by choosing the median expenditure as a minimum funding level. That theory has been in effect for many years. This calculation has been explained and reviewed before numerous legislative committees over the years and met their criteria.” (Performance Audit Report R-17-020, December 2017, Appendix A, p 34)

The Division of Post Audit recommended that the practice be codified as part of the transportation formula. Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) has introduced a bill – HB 2445 – that would do just that.



read more

Still Gathering Info; Thinking About the Prospects

Jan 17, 2018 by


These early days of a legislative session leave us wondering what we have to report to you every day! Legislators might be thought of as “hunter/gatherers.” While hunting for ideas and solutions, the spend a lot of time gathering information.

So it has been so far this year. In the committees we follow most closely – Appropriations, Ways and Means, the Tax Committees, the Education Committees, and the Education Budget Committees – we have been treated to many of the same presentations. These include:

  • Reviews of the impact of SB 19, the tax bill passed last session. What we know- Things are looking up but it’s still early – we should know a lot by April. And the new federal tax bill is likely to help make our revenue picture a “wild ride” (legislative staff said that not us!) with the first impact being a large influx of income tax cash as taxpayers sent in their last estimated tax payments in December rather than January to ensure those payments could still be deductible on their 2017 federal income tax form.
  • Reviews of the deliberations of the Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision. This committee assembled a collection of data but chose not to forward any recommendations to the full legislature. The most talked about part of their report is their study of the impact of an 18% cut to all state agencies except K-12 education as a means of raising the $600 million they believe is needed to meet the Court’s ruling.
  • Reviews of the evolution of the education article in the Kansas Constitution (Article VI). The current language was drafted by a legislative committee in 1965 and by the public in 1966. Prior to 1966, it was the language of the Wyandotte Constitution. A number of legislators have been floating the idea of pressing a constitutional amendment to stop the Supreme Court from determining the school funding formula to be unconstitutional on the basis of adequacy.
  • Reviews for recent changes to KPERS including the impact on the unfunded actuarial liability of withholding state KPERS contributions as part of balancing the budget.
  • Presentations by Education Commissioner Randy Watson on the state of education in Kansas today.

It’s a lot of data!

 Is $600 million the number?

It would seem that $600 million is the number under the dome. The Governor proposed $600 million, meeting the SBOE or the three-judge panel recommendations would take about $600 million, the Special Committee premised their discussion including consideration of budget cuts to raise $600 million, so it sounds a lot like consensus. (We recognize that there is a core group of legislators who don’t want to increase school funding at all.)

But of course, at the same time, the legislature has contracted for a new school funding study. That study is expected to be presented to the legislature on March 15. And that’s another problem.

The Court expects briefs to be filed on April 30. Attorney General Schmidt and the state’s attorney, Art Chalmers, both asked the legislature to finish their work by March 1 in order to meet that deadline. A few legislators have begun to float the idea of waiting until that study is complete. But to do so would jeopardize their ability to argue in the Supreme Court.

There are several things the legislature needs to do to get this task accomplished.

  • They need to deal with the four unconstitutional inequities in the new formula. This is a relatively easy task and Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) has already filed a bill to fix those problems (HB 2445).
  • With that done, they can focus on the level of funding they need. Again, the SBOE, the three-judge panel, and the Governor have all indicated about $600 million.
  • They need to decide how to put that money into the system. The Governor suggested a five-year phase-in. We don’t know if the Court will accept a time frame of that length but most people agree there will be some kind of phase-in.
  • And finally, they need to make sure the money is available. They must show the Court that they are serious by presenting evidence that the money for a phase-in will actually be there. This might take additional revenue measures and it will certainly include evidence of increasing revenue collections.

These are the discussions we hope to see beginning very soon.

read more