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Archive for Monday, December 30, 2013

Education advocates challenge poll on school finance

December 30, 2013

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A recent poll by a conservative lobby group suggests that a large number of Kansans oppose the idea of courts determining how much money should be spent on public schools.

But advocates for public schools are criticizing the poll, saying the questions were loaded with false or misleading information intended to sway the way people would respond.

The poll was conducted Dec. 18-19 by SurveyUSA on behalf of Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank that lobbies for lower taxes, limited government and “school choice” initiatives such as charter schools and vouchers.

The first question in the poll asked respondents for their opinions about a school finance lawsuit now pending before the Kansas Supreme Court. The appeal challenges a lower court ruling that said the Kansas Legislature has violated the state constitution's requirement to provide adequate funding for public schools.

The trial court ordered the Legislature to increase state funding by nearly 15 percent, to $4,492 per pupil — the amount already provided for in statute, but which the Legislature has not fully funded through appropriations.

In asking people's opinion about the courts' role in deciding such a case, the KPI poll first explained the case differently:

“A state court has effectively ordered legislators to increase school funding by $443 million, which would also automatically increase local property taxes by another $154 million,” the survey stated. “Regardless of whether you believe schools are adequately funded, how would you respond to this statement: It is appropriate for the courts to have final say on decisions of how much taxpayer money is spent on education.”

The survey of 500 adults from throughout the state showed the public almost evenly divided on the issue, with half saying they disagreed, and 47 percent saying they agreed. The survey had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points either way.

KPI president Dave Trabert said the claim that local property taxes would rise as a result of the decision was based on an assumption that if the state was ordered to increase its share of education funding, then local districts would automatically allow their “local option budgets,” or LOBs, to rise accordingly.

“Unless local school boards proactively vote to reduce their LOB rates, local taxes would increase by default,” Trabert said in an email to the Journal-World.

But others familiar with the lawsuit said the premise of the question was misleading.

Under state law, districts can supplement their base budgets by up to 31 percent with money raised from local property taxes. But those LOBs must be set each year by local school boards as part of their annual budgeting process.

"Nothing is automatic," said John Robb, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case. "The Legislature would determine how best to fund the schools, not the courts. KPI knows this and yet they persist in fear mongering."

Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll noted that some districts were forced to raise their LOBs to make up for cuts in state funding, and so restoring those state cuts could lead to cuts in local taxes.

"In some districts they've had to jack (up) their local mill rate, if they wanted to keep their funding at the same level," he said. "So they either had to choose to cut their funding or increase their mill rate."

SurveyUSA CEO Jay Leve defended the poll and the wording of the questions.

"We work with our clients in collaboration and ask questions we believe are accurate," Leve said. "We don't intentionally put false premises in any question."

The Supreme Court has not indicated when it will rule on that case, but many observers expect it around the same time the Kansas Legislature begins its 2014 session in January.

Comments

Mropus Wan 3 months, 2 weeks ago

This full-court press by Trabert and the KPI/Koch Industries seems to indicate the tea leaves being read shows another loss for their unconstitutional plans to defund Kansas public education.

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Steve King 3 months, 2 weeks ago

No, they're suing the State, ie: the Legislature for fulfilling the agreement they already signed and ignore. Sorry to say, but everyone is getting wise to their game and Nov can't come soon enough. Anything and anyone connect to the Koch influence is soon to be toast. Best start polishing that resume.

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Julius Nolan 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Thanks, Dave for promptly providing the Koch spin. Now we know the truth and it's definitely not the spin you are providing.

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Dave Trabert 3 months, 2 weeks ago

There is no 'assumption' involved in calculating the automatic amount of LOB property tax increase as alleged by the reporter. As I explained to the reporter in an email earlier today, Dale Dennis assisted with and confirmed our calculation of the amount by which LOB taxes would automatically increase if the Legislature increased BSAPP to $4,492 as ordered by the court unless local school boards reduced their LOB rates. If local school boards take no action to reduce their LOB, the amount automatically will rise.

I also shared the history of LOB tax collections with the reporter, which clearly shows that local school boards took advantage of the auto-pilot nature of the system to dramatically increase LOB taxes when they received large increases from Montoy. In fact, data provided by KSDE shows that LOB tax collections increased by $190 million between 2005 and 2009. LOB tax collections in 2009 were 56% higher than in 2005.

Property taxes collected by local districts are available at http://www.kansasopengov.org/SchoolDistricts/SchoolDistrictPropertyTaxes/SchoolDistrictPropertyTaxesLevied20012013/tabid/2262/Default.aspx

Funny how these facts don't make it into a 'news' story. And isn't it interesting that an attorney being paid with taxpayer money to sue taxpayers for more money calls it 'fear-mongering' to provide citizens with these facts?

It's completely understandable that these facts are causing consternation, especially among those who don't want citizens to have all the facts about school funding. By the way, taxpayer support of public education set more new records in 2013 at $5.771 billion and $12,781 per-pupil. Revenue per-pupil by districts is at http://www.kansasopengov.org/SchoolDistricts/RevenuePerPupil/tabid/1270/Default.aspx and Spending per-pupil by district is at http://www.kansasopengov.org/SchoolDistricts/SpendingPerPupil/tabid/1271/Default.aspx KSDE also says that more new records will be set in 2014...$5.991 billion and $12,885 per pupil.

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