Archive for Friday, June 23, 2006

Sides spar over school finance

Court doesn’t indicate when it will rule

June 23, 2006


— The Kansas Supreme Court should dismiss the school finance lawsuit because the Legislature has increased funding by an unprecedented amount, attorneys for the state argued Thursday.

"The state has not only rendered the case moot, but it has substantially complied with the court's prior orders," Alok Ahuja, an attorney with Lathrop & Gage, told justices.

"Our Legislature has made a good-faith effort," said Stephen McAllister, a Kansas University law professor, who was made a special assistant to the attorney general for the day to help argue the state's case.

But the attorney representing property-poor school districts said the increase still falls short, and the way the funds are distributed promotes disparities.

"We're back because school funding remains inadequate, not equitable, and does not reflect the actual and necessary costs," said Alan Rupe, of Wichita.

After oral arguments, the court gave no indication when it would rule in the case.

Falling short

Justice Robert Davis holds a school finance report while asking questions of the state's attorneys during arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court Thursday in Topeka.

Justice Robert Davis holds a school finance report while asking questions of the state's attorneys during arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court Thursday in Topeka.

At stake is the $3.1 billion funding method that supports the 450,000-student public school system.

In 2005, the state Supreme Court declared the system unconstitutional because it shortchanged all students, especially schools with high proportions of low-income students who brought the lawsuit in 1999.

The court accepted a $290 million increase after a special legislative session, as a down payment pending the outcome of a study showing the actual costs of providing an adequate education.

That study done by the Legislative Division of Post Audit recommended a $400 million increase for the next school year.

Last month, the Legislature approved a $466 million increase, but stretched that over three years with the first-year increase totaling $194.5 million. That measure, called Senate Bill 549, was before the court. Rejection of the bill by the court could force another special legislative session.


Justices attacked both sides of the issue during arguments that extended nearly an hour past the originally scheduled two hours.


Both sides presented their arguments today with attorneys for the state claiming lawmakers had the right to deviate from the cost study's recommendations while the opposing attorney says they took too much leeway with the bill they passed. Enlarge video

Against the state, the justices questioned several positions.

Why didn't lawmakers abide by the cost study? What guarantee existed that future legislatures would fund the later years of the plan? Why should the court accept the state's numbers, which include state aid attached to local tax dollars that have never before been calculated in state school funding?

Several justices seemed to indicate that the case should be sent back to a lower court so lawmakers and officials could be cross-examined as to how the cost study was done and why certain parts of it were ignored.

Speaking to Ahuja about the recent school funding increases, Justice Eric Rosen said, "You've called it massive, you've called it unprecedented, but you haven't told us how the Senate bill relates to necessary and actual costs?"

Ahuja said the cost study should be seen as a guide to the Legislature and not a requirement for a certain amount of funding. Dan Biles, an attorney representing the State Board of Education, dismissed education cost studies in general, saying they are "something close to alchemy."

McAllister said equity in funding and providing enough to cover the actual costs of an education "are not themselves constitutional standards."

Kansas University law professor Stephen McAllister argues for the state Thursday during a school finance case before the Kansas Supreme Court in Topeka. He was made a special assistant to the attorney general for the day.

Kansas University law professor Stephen McAllister argues for the state Thursday during a school finance case before the Kansas Supreme Court in Topeka. He was made a special assistant to the attorney general for the day.

He said the court should give "deference" to the Legislature because lawmakers have competing demands for funds and represent the voters.

Justice Marla Luckert asked McAllister how the state would respond when a child's educational needs weren't met.

"Is it just 'trust me'?" she asked.

Plaintiffs also grilled

But justices also questioned Rupe.

"Where does this end?" Rosen asked. As academic standards increase, the entire state budget could be consumed by education funding, he said.

Rupe said the Legislature was "heading in the right direction, but they haven't arrived." He said an additional $1 billion was needed over the next three years.

What about the argument that the Legislature has to balance competing needs, asked Justice Robert Davis.

"The last time I looked at the Kansas Constitution, I didn't see a provision dealing with equipment and machinery," Rupe said referring to a $600 million tax break that lawmakers just gave to businesses.

Rupe said the Legislature failed to comply with the court order requiring the actual cost of education be part of any school finance plan. In addressing the needs of students at risk of failing and those who don't speak English, the new law comes in anywhere from one-fourth to one-half of what the cost study said was needed, he said.

But Chief Justice Kay McFarland said there was no way schools could absorb the amount of money Rupe wanted in a short period of time.

Taking sides

After the arguments, interested parties in the case interpreted the justices' questions differently.

"The court is looking for a way to extricate themselves from this litigation," said Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, and vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

But House Education Committee Chairman Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said it was difficult to predict what the court would do based on their questions.

"They are trying to challenge each side," O'Neal said, though, he added, the court seemed to be searching for "light at the end of the tunnel."

State Board of Education member Bill Wagnon, a Democrat from Topeka, whose district includes Lawrence, said the justices "are looking for a workable solution."

Local reaction

Lawrence school board president Leonard Ortiz said he hoped the court would accept the law as a temporary fix and maintain jurisdiction in the case.

"The bill really doesn't address the two studies that the Legislature has done on actual costs," Ortiz said, referring to this year's cost study and one made by a consultant in 2002.

"The court should look at this as short-term and hopefully direct the Legislature to come back and look for a more long-term solution," Ortiz said.

School board member Craig Grant said school districts would like the case to be settled, but that more funding is needed.

"There are some big-ticket items we'd like to accomplish so we can do a better job for kids, but this bill doesn't provide enough," he said.


usaschools 11 years, 11 months ago

Tanzer, It is misleading and somewhat difficult to provide a per student cost that applies to students across the whole state. This is because small districts across the state are inefficient because they can't use economies of scale. If they were to consoldiate, which would be in the best interest of Kansas as a whole, they would not each need a superintendent and associated administrative staff, as many building, busses, and so forth that really jack up the cost of running a district. The cost study estimates used more than one scenario depending on the outcomes that were used. It is pretty confusing and I don't know of a site that provides a concise summary. It is possible that the KNEA site would have the legislative estimates or links to the reports. It is not as simple as dividing the total cost by the total number of students. Just be aware of that, as many frequent posters on school finance are not. Also bear in mind that there are many laws governing the ways in which districts can spend money from various sources (LOB, State funds, federal funds) that restrict districts from moving funds from one area to another. These are generally state laws that the districts did not create.

  All of the 4 studies that the legislature conducted found similar shortfalls that were in the 600+ million dollar range annually as I recall.

Jamesaust 11 years, 11 months ago

The fact that each dog in this fight seems to think that they made some headway in these arguments underscores how unclear it is what the Supreme Court wants to do.

I suspect that they'll fudge the answer -- yes, the present spending plan is good enough for now. They'll probably be a written opinion letting the 2006/07 year go by but warning that further action by future sessions of the Legislature will be necessary (better studies with lower cost numbers, or more spending). Procedurally, they might well return this to district court for further "evidence gathering" ('why did you deviate so far from your studies?'), which is the district court's job anyway.

Jamesaust 11 years, 11 months ago

On a side note:

while its always dangerous to rely upon journalists to summarize complicated matters, the arguments made by the Legislature's side by McAllister seem the most curious.

In sum, the Legislature has to balance many competing spending interests, so the Court should not allow this one interest (primary/sec. education) to "suck up" all the money.

This is, of course, true as far as it goes and is a key reason why such spending decisions lie with the elected branch of the government. Government is all about balancing different interests.

That said, this argument is formed by the premise that there is a fixed amount of revenue to spend. This is untrue. Government costs what it costs and if the revenue burden to support that is too painful then citizens, via their representatives, need to make decisions on what spending to cut. Education by nature is difficult to balance because its inputs (money) and its outputs (education) are not directly tied ($1 in may equal $100 out, or $0) as well as being separated by a significant lag in time (it may take years to see the results of inadequate funding in educational achievement).

Ironically, it is the legal not the practical basis that McAllister's argument seems most questionable. Unlike all the other spending demands on the Legislature, education is the one the CONSTITUTION mandates. As I've pointed out, most, even if not all, of this issue would disappear if the Constitution was amended to remove this requirement. If any explanation was presented to the Court explaining how they should become "activist judges" and ignore what the Constitution says and let the Legislature off the hook, this article doesn't mention it.

Jayhawk226 11 years, 11 months ago

This case was brought before the Kansas Supreme Court for the mere fact that the Kansas Legislature is costitutionally responsible for funding the state's public schools.

After last year's court rendering, it was determined the State Legislature was not providing enough. A special session was enacted and funding did increase.

Regarding usaschools comment...the figure reported to media and other agencies regarding "per-student-expenditure" is to take the full expenditure amount and divide by the number of students. The number is misleading because clearly the expenditure funds also include salaries, retirement pensions and other expenditures.

This does, in itself, imply that Kansas students are receiving EVEN LESS funding, per student, than is reported.

I will feel very cheated by my own legislature if I had children attending Kansas schools. This year, the merits of the case regard the inequity of fund allocations to the individual school districts.

Districts with a high number of at-risk students, which require much higher funding due to the services that must be rendered, are not receiving funding at the rate necessary.

Anybody can smile and be happy that the state legislature increased public school funding...but they did so in an inequitable, unfair method, which has prompted another case to rise before the Kansas Supreme Court.

If it could be proven that the districts do not receive their funding at the equitable percentage needed, then prepare for another special session.

One example, as I posted yesterday: The Kansas City, KS school district has approximately 19,500 students.

According to the funding bill that was signed by the Governor, the KCK district will receive an increase of $15 million, over these three years. KCK currently has a per-student-expenditure of approximately $7,500. (Pretty low) The study indicates, the at-risk school districts which must provide more instructional programs and special education services should receive approximately $10,000 minimum.

That would mean the funding increases provdied to the Kansas City, KS USD 500 district should be an increase of $48,750,000 (PER YEAR), not the $15 million granted (over three years).

The plaintiff's in this case argued before the KS Supreme Court that there is indeed, documentation and evidence, to prove that their is an inequitable formual of funding under the new bill. It doesn't matter if the KS Legislature "made good faith" to increase funding, it is where/how did they fund. If the court believes it is not constitutional because of the inequity, time to do it all over again.

It'll be interesting to see what the court's decision is.

johngalt 11 years, 11 months ago

On average we spent $9,700 per student in 2004-05. That does not include the massive increase during last year's special Session or this year's increases.

We are, by far, the highest in the region and in the top half of the country. When the last two major increases are included, Kansas will likely be in the top 10, while our economy will remain in the bottom 10 to 15.

Jayhawk226 11 years, 11 months ago

You'll have to cite your sources on that one johngalt, I'd be interested to know more details.

A majority of Illinois school districts have budget deficits.

Illinois ranks 48th in state funding for public education, providing only 36% of school funding.

Illinois is the 5th wealthiest state in the nation.

Illinois school funding varies from under $5,000 to $18,000 per pupil.

Kansas may move into the top 10 per school funding because they fund virtually 100% of most districts.

$9,700 per student is still very, very low and would definitely not place it into the top 10 overall in the country by any means.

usaschools 11 years, 11 months ago

Johngalt, I don't think the increased funding will put us in the top 10 - we were something like 43rd or 44th before. Average figures do not tell the tale anyway, as I pointed out in my previous post.

wbob 11 years, 11 months ago

All this spending would make more sense if it could be shown that it would better education the children of this state. As it is, I believe the schools will continue to decline, and continue to produce graduates who can barely read, write, and cipher.

conservative 11 years, 11 months ago

I love the concept that almost 10,000 per student is low. Private schools that are usually considered to provide better education routinely have tuition costs below 10,000 per year. Scrap public education and let private schools take over. We'll have better education for less money.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 11 months ago

vegas we should just become vegas think of all the money tourist and jobs not to mention no state sales tax? ok I know not likely to happen but something does need to happen and leaving it to political figures and courts to take care of and all our greatgrand kids will still be fighting this fight.

usaschools 11 years, 11 months ago

You forget a lot of things conservativeman.

First of all, you are comparing apples to oranges, which is really convenient when making a flawed argument based on assertions. Taken as a group, private schools do NOT outperform public schools. The best public schools are on par with the best private schools. Many children who attend private school spent at least part of their school time in public schools. Most excellent private schools employ teachers who learned their trade in the public schools (take corpus christi here in Lawrence for example). Private schools often have the pleasure of educating children whose parents value education, are supportive of the school, and expect their children to do their part. The children typically want to learn. Those with learning disabilities, mental retardation, severe behavior problems, and many other handicapping conditions are almost always excluded from private schools. When they do attend the costly special services they recieve (as well as speech-language services, occupational therapy services, physical therapy services, etc.) are paid for and provided by the PUBLIC schools. Public schools have children who live in poverty, most private schools do not (or it is not a significant portion of their population, just a few token scholarships). The effects of poverty on learning are many and well-documented. A public school with 70% of the children on free and reduced lunch (with 40-50% percent of those on free lunch) can hardly be compared with, say, Pembroke Academy. Public schools educate all comers and STILL are able to achieve comparable test scores when public and private schools are compared as a group. Now, I went to a private school for my elementary years, so I experienced both. I have also worked at both public and private schools, so I have a pretty good grasp on the situation. Ultimately, one just can't make a good argument based on dollar amounts per child. The private school may own the building and have no construction costs. The building cost may be underwritten by a church. The church may also be paying the salaries of key employees such as administrators. Technology, books, and so on may be donated. The law is not constraining private schools so they can the budgetary choices they choose. Private schools do not have to provide special services for children with special needs. They don't have to provide free and reduced lunches and breakfasts to feed the children. They don't have to spend money to deal with unfunded federal and state testing mandates.

The view that public education should be scrapped is NOT a "conservative" position, it is best characterized as "extremist" or "radical." Your anti-public education zealotry comes through loud and clear, but your argument is not grounded in fact, logic, or reason. You are misinformed and do not understand the realities of education today.

Jayhawk226 11 years, 11 months ago


You're right on with your logic. As a special education teacher, I appreciate your insight.

conservative 11 years, 11 months ago


First off my name is conservative not conservativeman.

Second. WoooHooo, the best public schools can compare with the private schools, but at how much extra money?

Bottom line, we continue to throw more money at education and yet nothing seems to improve. Too much waste in the public schools.

Now I agree that we can't completely get rid of public schools and frankly some of your arguments are spot on. However you need to realize that more money isn't the answer. We need to look at the schools and make decisions such as is it really necessary to have 50 (a number pulled from the air because I don't have time to look up the actual number) elementary schools in a town like Lawrence? Every individual school requires levels of management that take up money and don't provide benefits that wouldn't be in place if we moved to fewer larger schools.

Guess what, special services are easier to adminster over fewer campuses too. Look at some of the special resource teachers that float from elementary school to elementary school in the Lawrence school district. In one school in the morning and another in the afternoon. How much wasted time is spent transporting these individuals that could be better spent in a classroom helping children?

Give up the antiquated idea of neighborhood schools and look at it from a cost perspective. How can we reduce costs and still educate? First step any business uses when looking at improving the bottom line is to look for excess capacity and ways to pare down management. That is why large corporations eliminate older outdated factories while expanding existing ones.

johngalt 11 years, 11 months ago

According to the NEA, we are ranked #43 in teacher salary. See page 18.

Also according to the NEA, we are rankd #25 in per pupil $$ at a little over $9,000 in 03-04.

$9,700 per student is hardly low.

According to the State Board of Education, we spent $9,700 in 04-05. That would put us #18 in 03-04. Click on the bottom right: "All"

And no, the aid is not all from the State.

In the last 30 years, we actually have fewer public school students in Kansas. Yet, the number of administrators has nearly doubled and other school district employees have increased 70%.


Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 11 months ago

we need casinoes build them they will come and spend much money oh the sinners of the world :)

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