Kansas Supreme Court Rules in Gannon

Jun 25, 2018 by

Key takeaways from today’s ruling:

  • Funding remains inadequate, specifically relating to needed calculations for inflation in future years.
  • The current funding system can continue to operate this year, and the Kansas Legislature has until April 2019 to provide a remedy to the Court (the Court retains jurisdiction).
  • The Court recognizes that the Legislature has made progress.
  • KNEA President, Mark Farr, points out that Kansans need to vote and that retaining a strong coalition of common-sense, public education supporters in the Legislature is vital this election year.

“Our schools will open this fall as expected, and the Supreme Court did its duty according to the Constitution.  Today is a step forward for Kansas kids and communities and ensures that we will continue the progress the Legislature made in 2018 to Constitutionally fund our public schools,” KNEA President, Mark Farr.

At 3:00 this afternoon the Kansas Supreme Court issued its ruling the Gannon school finance case. The ruling has been expected.

The question front and center for most Kansans is whether or not schools will open on time for the 2018-19 school year. The answer is “YES.”

The second most asked question is whether or not the ruling would require a special legislative session. The answer is “NO.”

But before one concludes from this that the court found the Legislature’s work meets both adequacy and equity in school funding as required by the constitution, one has to review the entire decision. And indeed, the Court has ruled that, while the latest changes to the school finance formula do not violate the equity standard, the Legislature has not met the adequacy requirements.

Specifically, the ruling says, “The State has not met the adequacy requirement in Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution under its proposed remediation plan.”

The decision then goes on to assert that the state can meet adequacy if the State makes some “timely financial adjustments in response to the problems identified with the plan and its accompanying calculations and then completes that plan, the State can bring the K-12 public education financing system into constitutional compliance with the adequacy requirement.”

As in last year’s decision, the Court set a tight timeline for compliance calling upon the Legislature to finish its work and submit briefs to the Court on or before April 15, 2019. Response briefs will be due April 25, and oral arguments will be conducted on May 9 at 9 a.m. The court’s decision will be communicated by June 30.

In the meantime, SB 19 (passed in the 2017 session) can remain in effect while SB 423 and SB 61 (both passed in the 2018 session) can be temporarily implemented. The Court will retain jurisdiction.

The Court, as in previous school finance decisions, did not tell the Legislature how much more funding was necessary to meet adequacy but instead referenced financial adjustments that need to be made relative to adequacy, specifically surrounding inflation in future years as outlined in the State’s current plan.

Several issues were raised by the plaintiffs regarding some changes made in the latest legislation related to equity, but the Court sided with the State on those issues, ruling that equity is not violated.

The Court has now done its Constitutional duty and issued a ruling. It is up to the Legislature in 2019 to craft additional remedies to meet funding adequacy. In the meantime, schools will be opening on time, and the funds provided by the 2018 Legislature will be available for use in meeting the needs of our students.

The fact that the decision is not a slap at the Legislative response to the last Gannon ruling but instead calls upon the next Legislature to make some adjustments is a credit to the hard work of a broad coalition of Democrats and Moderate Republicans elected in 2016 who served in the last two legislative sessions. Much progress was made thanks to their efforts and Kansas is on the road to constitutional compliance.

It reminds us of the importance of elections. The Kansas NEA Political Action Committee met this last weekend and a list of recommended, pro-public education candidates will be released to our members shortly. Now that there is a direction on school funding, we need to elect the kind of Legislators that will understand and work to meet the needs of our great public education system.

“Supporting those candidates who support public education is our duty as professionals and as citizens.  My call is for every citizen to help strengthen the Legislature so that we may continue the progress we’ve seen.  We need Kansans to vote!” KNEA President, Mark Farr.

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Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Gannon School Finance Lawsuit

May 22, 2018 by

The Kansas Supreme Court today heard arguments from Plaintiffs and the State in the school finance case that will determine whether or not this year’s school finance bill will meet constitutionality on both equity and adequacy.

Although it is not officially part of the evidence in the case, a central point in arguments today became the school finance cost study done this year by Dr. Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University. Conservatives in Legislative leadership had hoped Taylor’s study would demonstrate that our schools were already adequately funded. Instead, the study suggested that in order to meet the goals of the state’s education plan Kansas needed to invest an additional $1.7 to 2 billion.

Justice Eric Rosen went so far as to say “Here, you all are always battling your own expert…” in response to the state taking a position contrary to the Taylor study.

Questioning was sharp and, as always, it is difficult to say for certain where the Justices are going although most observers agree that they appear to be skeptical about the adequacy of the latest legislative attempt.  As we’ve indicated in previous posts, the Court’s skepticism was not completely unexpected.

The Court has promised a ruling by June 30 although it is hoped that the ruling will be sooner – especially if it might require the convening of a special legislative session.

To read more coverage of the hearing, visit one of these news reports:

The Lawrence Journal-World

The Kansas City Star

The Topeka Capital-Journal

The Wichita Eagle

Kansas NEA remains confident that whatever the Court rules, the Kansas Legislature will take their responsibility seriously and address the situation in a way that ensures our schools are open in August – that every new Kindergartener and Kindergarten parent will experience that first day together and that every rising high school senior will begin their final year on time and on track to graduate.

While the uncertainty of funding is difficult for everyone, KNEA has planned for contingencies to ease the concerns of our members throughout the state. Whatever the decision and whatever actions have to be taken, Kansas NEA will be there to work with policymakers and to protect the education of our children and the well-being of Kansas educators.

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House Handles Budget and School Finance Fix

Apr 28, 2018 by

House Budget Bill Passes with Minimal Changes

The House this morning passed HB 2365 on a final action vote of 92 to 24. Debate on the budget lasted into the night yesterday with many amendments offered and most defeated.

The most significant amendment offered by Rep. Steven Becker (R-Buhler) was one to strip out the language added in Committee by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) that would have lapsed all new spending added by the Committee if the Supreme Court were to rule against the State in the school finance case. Landwehr’s amendment had come to be known as the “trip-wire.”

The debate on removing the trip-wire was vigorous and in the end, the Becker amendment was adopted on a vote of  71 to 53. KNEA supported the Becker amendment.

Other interesting amendments and their results were:

Motion by Rep. Whipple (D-Wichita) to prohibit non-disclosure agreements signed by state employees to silence those employees in cases of sexual harassment and/or abuse. Adopted 100 to 12.

Motion by Rep. Jennings (R-Lakin) to prohibit taxpayer funds from being spent on defense or fines for any state-wide elected official found in contempt of court (can you say Kris Kobach?). Adopted 103 to 16.

Motion by Rep. Holscher (D-Olathe) to prohibit taxpayer funds from being used for penalties or settlements of sexual harassment claims and prohibit making such claims secret except at the request of the victim. Adopted on a voice vote.

Motion by Rep. Clayton (R-Overland Park) on legislative transparency would have required names on bills. Objections and challenges came from Rep. Schwab (R-Olathe) first on germaneness (it was ruled germane) and then as not allowed under the rules. The Rules Committee determined that the amendment was out of order because changes to rules have to be done through resolutions.

Motion by Rep. Parker (D-Overland Park) to expand Medicaid. It was challenged on germaneness but found to be germane. Failed 56 to 66.

Motion by Rep. Whitmer (R-Wichita) to strip $45 million out of K-12 funding (the money he says KSDE spent illegally) and transfer it to higher ed. The amendment would also freeze tuition. The motion failed.

A motion by Rep. Garber (R-Sabetha) to stop state money from going to any city or county in Kansas that adopts a resolution or law contrary to federal law (can you say “sanctuary cities?”). Under questioning, it became clear Garber had no real understanding of the extent of his amendment. For example, if a city adopted a gun resolution that was more liberal on gun ownership than federal law, the state could not provide any funding. Failed 28 to 69.

The bill was advanced on a voice vote with the final action vote this morning.

School Finance Fix

Last night, once the budget was done and the House went home, the Appropriations Committee met and moved the contents of HB 2796 into SB 61, creating Sub for SB 61 – the school finance $80 million fix. What it does is provide a mandate that every district levy a 15% LOB (they all do now) and direct that the money raised be counted towards adequacy by the Court. It also removes the language that took $80 million out of what was believed to have been in SB 423. Sub for SB 61 is a simple fix of the problem discovered on April 9.

The bill was brought to the floor for debate this morning.

The first amendment was offered by Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (D-Prairie Village) and it was a big one. It would have stripped out the mandatory LOB language, added the “Trimmer amendment” that increases BASE aid, added the “Pittman amendment” that brings special education funding up to the statutory 92% reimbursement, ends the cap on bond and interest and adds funding for parents as teachers and the ABC therapy program (two programs wanted by the Senate).

The amendment was challenged on germaneness because Sub for SB 61 is a simple policy fix and the amendment is an appropriation. After a long delay, the challenge was withdrawn and the debate on the Stogsdill amendment went on.

In the end, the Stogsdill amendment was defeated by a vote of 42 to 78.

The next amendment came from Rep. Sydney Carlin (D-Manhattan). This one would just repeal the cap on bond and interest; it was one part of the prior amendment. The amendment failed on a vote of 53 to 66.

Rep. Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth) offered an amendment to increase special education aid from 84% as in SB 423 to 85% – an additional $6 million. This amendment failed on a vote of 49 to 68.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley (D-Merriam) offered an amendment to allow other districts to enter the mental health pilot program and expand cooperative opportunities. The original Landwehr amendment specified which districts could participate. Ousley’s amendment carefully kept the Landwehr amendment intact but would merely allow the State Board to choose other districts that could participate. Landwehr opposed the Ousley amendment. The amendment failed on a vote of 43 to 77.

Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) offered an amendment to mandate a 2.5% pay raise for all teachers. It was ruled not germane because you can’t put an appropriation proviso in a policy bill.

Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) offered an amendment stripping out the requirement that a certain percentage of LOB dollars must be directed to the at-risk and bilingual programs based on the percentage of students in those programs. Districts should be able to decide how best to expend the dollars they get to serve their students. Rooker believes the requirement is a likely violation of equity.

Williams opposed the Rooker amendment because 248 school districts have LOB authority they are not using including her own district. They have taxing authority they are not using – they should look at their own effort and if they need money, they should go to 33%.

The Rooker amendment, the last amendment of the day, failed on a vote of 54 to 64.

In the end, not one amendment was adopted and Chairman Fred Patton (R-Topeka) who argued for a “clean fix” bill with no amendments got exactly what he wanted.

The bill was advanced on a voice vote.

Later, on emergency final action, the bill was passed on a vote of 92 to 27.

 

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Quiet Day One of Wrap-up Session

Apr 26, 2018 by

Day one of the 2018 legislative wrap-up session was a quiet one. A number of conference committee reports were adopted and some new bills were introduced. The House was done shortly after noon today and the Senate later in the afternoon. Neither chamber planned to work into the night as this is the day of annual Legislative Shrimp Peel, an event to raise money for Kansas Special Olympics.

School Finance Measures

Of the bills introduced in the House, several were addressing the error in SB 423, the school finance bill. We don’t have the numbers yet and they won’t be available online until later but here’s what we understand about three of them:

HB 2796 – This would repeal the mandatory LOB provision that caused the error, restore other LOB provisions that had been changed, and adjust BASE aid accordingly.

HB 2797 – This would somehow amend the mandatory LOB provision so that the lost $80 million would be restored but we believe would keep the mandatory 15% LOB levy.

HB 2798 – This would strike provisions requiring school districts to adopt a minimum local option budget and transfer funds from the supplemental general fund to certain categorical funds; restore certain provisions relating to local option budgets and adjust the BASE aid accordingly.

There was another bill read in – probably HB 2799 – that would do what HB 2798 does and increase BASE aid by adjusting how the cost of living index was applied. It would also increase special education aid to the statutory 92% reimbursement and repeal a cap on bond and interest payments.

There is also a bill in the Senate (we do not have a number yet) that we understand is the same as HB 2796.

We will be keeping an eye on these bills as the session continues.

The KPERS Repayment

Yesterday we reported on a Governor’s Budget Amendment (GBA) that would prepay $82 million in money owed to KPERS. KNEA supported the GBA. The House Appropriations Committee not only supported it, they augmented it by increasing the payment to $192 million before passing their budget bill out of committee.

In response to good revenue projections, the budget committees now have the ability to not just afford the school finance costs in SB 423 but to do good work in other areas as well. These revenue projections are why there is a move to increase the funding in the school finance plan which would, in turn, raise the chances of the plan being constitutionally adequate thus keeping our schools open and ending the need for a special session.

But after adding the increased spending to the budget bill, the committee adopted an amendment by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) that would lapse all the new spending if the Supreme Court did not accept the school finance plan. House Minority Leader Jim Ward (D-Wichita) said the Landwehr amendment was cruel in that it “dangles money” in front of constituents only to pull it back based on the Court ruling. 

The Landwehr amendment was adopted after an 11 to 11 tie vote with Committee Chair Troy Waymaster (R-Bunker Hill) breaking the tie with his YES vote.

In other words, don’t count on the KPERS restoration just yet.

The House will debate the budget bill tomorrow.

House Doesn’t Take the Senate’s Massive Tax Cut

The House did take action today on Sub for HB 2228, the Brownbackian tax cut bill passed by the Senate on April 7. Because the Senate put the plan in a House bill, the House could not amend it, only vote to concur or non-concur in the changes.

Tax Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria) made a motion to non-concur in the Senate changes and send the bill to a conference committee. That motion was passed on a voice vote. What this action means is the chances of the House adopting the Senate tax cuts is remote but what tax cut bill might emerge from conference is anyone’s guess.

KNEA continues to believe that Kansas would be best served if legislators would resist the urge to cut taxes while we are only 10 months into recovery from the disastrous Brownback tax experiment.

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Are We Ready for Tomorrow?

Apr 25, 2018 by

The Legislature is set to return on Thursday, April 26 and at the top of everyone’s list of questions is “What about the school finance error?”

Maybe not everyone’s, but it’s on the top of our list!

We’re working on rumors and some good intelligence gathering to try and figure out how things will go down come Thursday.

First, we know there is a planned fix for the error which is tied to Rep. Clay Aurand’s (R-Belleville) effort to mandate a certain level of LOB effort and label it as part of BASE aid. The error can be fixed simply by repealing that provision and we are hopeful that will be the first order of business.

Of course, in the meantime, the state has received more good news about revenue collections and that has spurred a lot of talk about what to do with this “extra” money.

Rumor has it that the some in the House will again try to add to the school finance bill perhaps by pursuing either an amendment offered earlier by Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) to change how the CPI was calculated in determining  a funding level or one by Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth) that would boost the reimbursement of special education funding to the statutory 92%. Both amendments were considered in floor debate on SB 423 earlier and were not adopted, having received only 41 and 43 votes respectively.

If SB 423 is amended to fix the LOB issue and restore the $80 million, we believe there is a chance that the Court will still believe the bill falls short of constitutional adequacy either for the overall increase or for the five-year phase in. Such a Court decision could result in a special legislative session this summer. There is also a chance the Court could call this bill a “good faith effort” and give the Legislature another year to augment the future-years in the plan. We’ll just have to wait and see.

If either the Trimmer or Pittman amendments were to be added, it increases the chances that the Court will approve the plan but it may also create a greater challenge getting the bill through the Senate – we are confident Senate President Wagle (R-Wichita) and Majority Leader Denning (R-Overland Park) will oppose such increases. We just can’t predict what might happen to the 21 votes in the Senate if the bill gets costlier.

KNEA supports the Trimmer and Pittman amendments because both align with our Legislative Agenda and priorities. But we also believe that, should they be offered and fail, that is not a reason to vote NO on the $80 million fix. To allow SB 423 with the error to stand as the proposed solution to Gannon would be irresponsible, to say the least. And it would guarantee a negative reception in the Court, a special summer Legislative Session, and the possibility that our schools will be closed come August.

Now throw into this the Senate’s massive, “Brownbackian” tax cut bill, HB 2228. This bill, which now goes to the House, gives away more than $500 million in new tax cuts and tax adjustments. Coincidentally, the new school finance bill with the fix costs more than $500 million. Passage of HB 2228 cancels out the revenue needed for SB 423!

The Court has been very clear that they want a school finance plan that has the money in it. They have essentially said, “show us the money.” To pass a $500 million finance plan concurrent with a $500 million tax cut would be a disaster. Remember that in the early stages of Gannon, the State argued that there was no revenue for increased school funding and the Court responded that the money was there but the Legislature gave it away in the 2012 Brownback tax cuts. Deja Vu all over again!

Our hopes for the next nine days?

Fix the mistake. Repeal the Aurand LOB amendment. That will restore the bill to the level of funding that was intended on April 7 and take care of new equity challenges.

If the votes are there to increase the funding, do so. We support full funding of special education – we always have and always will. If such amendments are not adopted, pass the underlying bill that fixes the error. Do not use a desire to do more as an excuse to not fix the underlying problem.

Resist the temptation to cut taxes again. Kansas is still in recovery from the Brownback disaster. Things are looking good but this is not the time to cut taxes. We still have to meet school funding adequacy and we also need to address the mess in our foster care system, the challenges faced in public safety, the restoration of funds taken from the highway program and KPERS, and many other vital services. Tax cuts can wait. Remember that voters in 2016 sent many new legislators to Topeka specifically to restore our revenue system. It’s only been 10 months since that happened.

Good Revenue News Means We Can Have Necessary Things Again

We, like all Kansans, are happy to see continuing good news about revenue collections. We’ve repeatedly exceeded estimates thanks to the work of a bipartisan group willing to vote to repeal Brownback’s income tax changes and then vote to override his veto of their action. It looks like the state is on a path to stability once again. We’re not out of the woods but, as Sam would have said, “The sun is shining in Kansas.”

The revenue news means different things to different legislators. Some, as we noted earlier, want to go back to handing out tax cuts as if we had already satisfied the Court school finance ruling, restored the highway plan, paid KPERS back, found the 70 missing children in DCF, and so much more.

In truth, the news means that while we can have some necessary things, we still have a lot to do to get back to our beautiful Kansas.

For the first time in a long time, the legislature is looking at budget profiles with ending balances above zero. In fact today the budget committees are looking at reports that show the state meeting the required 7.5% ending balance. HB 2228, the tax cut bill would wipe that out of course but in the meantime, they can look at other things to fix.

Governor Colyer has submitted a Governor’s Budget Amendment (GBA) that would take funds above the 7.5% ending balance and make an early payment to KPERS. The Legislature is supposed to be making back payments to KPERS by 2020 and this GBA would bring a portion of that payment up now. KNEA supports this GBA. It is critical that KPERS be paid back and the sooner, the better.

This one opportunity and action should be enough to convince responsible lawmakers to step back from the temptation to return immediately to the tax policy decisions that led Kansas to the brink of disaster. We don’t need another radical tax cut – that’s how the Legislature created the problems we are facing today. Now that things are turning around, we hope the Legislature will focus on restoration of services and programs that have made Kansas a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Join with Our Partners and Urge Your Legislators to Reject Irresponsible Tax Cuts

KNEA is working with other organizations to make sure that our state has ample time to recover from the Brownback experiment before considering any reductions in taxes. As they return to Topeka, it’s important for them to hear that voters want them to act responsibly to ensure our economic and budget recovery. Please take the time to email your Legislators.

Click here to send a message to your Legislators.

 

 

 

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