Archive for Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sebelius: State won’t adopt school study

Suggested $400 million funding increase doesn’t find favor; plaintiffs’ attorney criticizes decision

February 16, 2006


— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday told a gathering of local school officials that the state won't adopt a recent school cost-study that calls for at least a $400 million increase in school funding.

The governor's words drew quick ire from the lead attorney for Kansas school districts that have a case before the state Supreme Court, which ruled last year that the state must spend more to meet a constitutional mandate.

"I guess I'll be firing up our printer to file something with the court," said Alan Rupe, lead attorney for the plaintiff districts.

Lawrence school board members at the meeting were concerned by the governor's comments, too.

"The Legislative Post-Audit study, I think, is helpful," Sebelius told a meeting of school board members from across the state.

But Sebelius added, "I don't think anybody sees the Post-Audit study being the formula that will ultimately be decided upon."

The cost study, conducted by the Legislative Division of Post-Audit, was ordered by the Legislature after the Kansas Supreme Court declared the school finance system unconstitutional because it shortchanged all students, especially those from low-income districts.

The court accepted a $290 million increase in school funding last year as a down payment and said lawmakers needed to conduct a study that determined the costs of providing an adequate education in Kansas.

The cost-study, released at the start of the legislative session last month, said the state needs to spend from $400 million to $470 million more on schools. Plaintiff school districts who filed the lawsuit leading to the court ruling have agreed with the study's results.

'Just flat annoying'

The governor's comments and lack of definite progress on school finance in the Legislature drew criticism from Rupe.

"What has happened is just flat annoying," Rupe said. "Instead of figuring out how to increase educational spending, they are giving away money from their savings account," he said, citing proposals in the Legislature to cut taxes, including one approved by the House that would give businesses a tax break costing more than $300 million.

"They're doing all this in the shadow of a court ruling that says come up with more funds for education," Rupe said.

But Sebelius and other state leaders have balked at some of the study's conclusions and its price tag.

"What the Legislature needs to do is take that cost snapshot and use it as a guide but not as the mandate," Sebelius said Wednesday.

A major portion of the increased funds, according to the cost study, must be pumped into the Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City urban districts because they have high proportions of students from low-income families. The study also indicated small, rural districts may be getting too much in funding.

But Sebelius said discussions with legislative leaders going on behind closed doors deal with changing the cost-study's proposed urban funding to spread funding to more at-risk students, some of whom may not be in those large districts.

She also said lawmakers don't want to hurt rural districts.

"The worst of all worlds is to help one group of children by putting another group at a disadvantage," she said.

Multiyear commitment

In addition, Sebelius reaffirmed her commitment to a multiyear school finance proposal.

Lawrence school board members Sue Morgan and Linda Robinson attended the governor's speech at the conference sponsored by the Kansas Association of School Boards.

Morgan said a multiyear funding plan would be good news for districts trying to plan for the future.

But, she added, "If what that means is they are going take what the cost study said and divide that up over three years, I have a question on whether that is going to fly with the Supreme Court."

Rupe agreed, saying that spreading $400 million over three years wouldn't keep up with inflation nor the outcomes demanded by state and federal education laws.

"You just drop further behind," he said. "It's like trying to pay off the credit card by paying off the minimum balance."


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 2 months ago

It's an election year, and anyone running against Sebelius will have an anti-tax, anti-school-spending platform. She's just pulling the rug out of that issue in true Clintonian, Republican-lite fashion.

Jamesaust 12 years, 2 months ago

As long as the Governor and Legislature go through a rational analysis of funding needed and can document that, the courts aren't going to interpose their own judgment. Courts have no superior basis for evaluating these political questions (arguably, they have a distinctly inferior basis).

That said, I hope there's a lot more "meat" to this analysis then this article notes. All that I can make out are various conclusory statements that not much more is needed.

Of course, the danger is that the politicians will try to have it both ways as a means of avoiding criticism and getting themselves re-elected. Less tax versus more spending, especially mor spending for others.

Its fairly difficult to convince a state legislator from a rural district to accept both (a) more taxes and (b) less spending for their rural schools, particularly when a high percentage of local voters are elderly but the area us being depopulated of local young families with children - and that's the profile of many legislators.

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