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.