The Gannon School finance decision landed on the mid-term break while legislators were back home.
As most people expected, the decision went against the state and the Kansas Legislature is once again being called upon to step up to the plate and provide adequate financing for the educational interests of the state.
Our past experience shows us that the first week or so after such a decision is dedicated to complaining, attacking the justices, and trying to convince the voters that the state should never have lost. But our past experience appears not to be playing out as the reality of 2017.
Legislators have returned to work and, while today was a rather slow day, there was very little talk about the challenges of complying with the court.
Some – like Governor Brownback and Rep. John Whitmer – have decided that since the decision used the achievement gap as part of the justification, the solution is to drain more money out of the public school system and send it to private and religious academies. But more legislators are taking a different tack and calling for a rolling up of sleeves and getting down to work.
That was certainly the air in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee which had a meeting to discuss at-risk funding and how to best meet the needs of challenging students in the new formula. Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) seems determined to get to work at putting together the new formula as soon as possible. They’ve already had hearings on several new formula ideas and have examined all aspects of funding and student need. We expect this committee to get to work assembling a plan very soon.
But there are at least two other issues to solve before we are out of the session.
The first is what to do about revenue. Kansas is facing a nearly $300 million shortfall for the rest of this fiscal year and a shortfall of some $500 million or more in the next fiscal year. And these figures don’t account for any increase in school funding in response to the court decision. The Governor vetoed the first bill to try to responsibly deal with revenue in the out years (HB 2178) and while the House voted to override his veto the same effort in the Senate came up three votes short.
The Senate has since crafted another bill very similar to HB 2178 but not applied retroactively. Unfortunately this bill slashes the revenue produced by about $100 million so it will not solve the problem going forward.
What the Legislature simply must do now – and soon – is craft a tax bill that raises sufficient revenue to both close the current hole in the next fiscal year and provide for an increase in school funding to satisfy the Court. However they do this, three things are musts – they must repeal the “glide path to zero” formula that would end income taxes entirely, they must repeal the LLC loophole that allows 330,000 Kansas business owners to pay no income tax at all, and they must add at least one more income tax bracket at higher income levels so that all are paying their fair share. Sadly, Brownback seems determined to stick with his failed tax system and so both chambers need to be ready to override his veto.
The next challenge is how to fund the rest of this fiscal year. Again, the House is leading the way by passing a bill to liquidate the pooled money investment portfolio. While this action would create a repayment obligation for several years, it would generate enough money to get Kansas out of the current shortfall without having to make additional cuts to services. The repayment obligation can be taken into consideration in putting together the new tax plan. This bill (HB 2161) is now in Senate hands.
The challenges are tremendous but they are not insurmountable. The House has already shown a willingness to get the job done; a majority in the Senate has as well. But we need to work to get the super-majorities necessary for veto override votes if we really want to come out of mess created by Brownback and his allies in 2012-13. The voters did a lot of the heavy lifting in August and November when they ousted so many of those who supported Brownback and replaced them with common sense moderate Republicans and Democrats. Now we just need to be there to help these new folks get the job done.
As this session moves forward, we urge you to be faithful readers and stay ready to take action. We depend on you to help persuade your legislators to get on board.