Archive for Thursday, March 6, 2014

Kansas Supreme Court orders some school funding increases, sends big question back to lower court

March 6, 2014, 1:00 p.m. Updated March 7, 2014, 4:04 p.m.


In press conference Friday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, flanked by legislators and staff including at right, Senator Susan Wagle, President of the Senate and Attorney General Derek Schmidt discusses the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling on the Gannon vs. State of Kansas.

In press conference Friday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, flanked by legislators and staff including at right, Senator Susan Wagle, President of the Senate and Attorney General Derek Schmidt discusses the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling on the Gannon vs. State of Kansas.

School finance: Gannon v. Kansas

Timeline: The events that led to Gannon v. Kansas

Read more about school finance and legislative developments at First Bell, Statehouse Live and the LJWorld's Kansas government page.

— The Kansas Supreme Court handed down a mixed ruling today in a school finance lawsuit, ordering the Legislature to restore certain kinds of funding in the state education budget, but sidestepping the larger question of whether base per pupil funding for K-12 education is adequate.

The court remanded that larger question back to a special three-judge panel, with instructions to use a different standard for determining whether the legislature has met its constitutional duty to “make suitable provision” for financing public schools.

The unanimous decision means the Kansas Legislature has until July 1 to restore what is called “equalization aid” for capital outlay and local option budgets.

If the Legislature does anything less than restore full funding, the three-judge panel will then have to review what was done to determine whether the state has cured the inequities between low-wealth and higher-wealth districts.

And if the Legislature does nothing by July 1, the court has given the trial panel a number of options.

“Ultimately, the panel must ensure the inequities in the present operation of the (capital outlay and local option budget) statutes are cured,” the court said.

Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders praised the court decision, saying that by refusing to order a specific amount of funding, the court has deferred to the Legislature what is the proper amount of school finance.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt and other GOP leaders said the court will allow legislators to make the decisions on how to make the funding system more fair to low-income districts, and that that may not even require any extra funding.

The ruling "did not attach a particular number to that," Schmidt said.

Brownback also dismissed criticism that his tax cuts have led to under-funding of schools and will impede the Legislature from providing more funds for education. "These policies are helping," Brownback said. "They are producing more revenues. We need this tax structure so we can grow," he said.

Brownback also laid the blame for school funding problems to his predecessor, former Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat. Parkinson and the Legislature reduced school funding when the state suffered historic drops in revenue during the Great Recession.

The Republicans also said that the court emphasized that a constitutional system would be based on student outcomes instead of the total amount of funding. And they said the decision may open up whether the entire school finance formula needs to be overhauled.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said now that the decision has been made, legislators will tackle the issue. "We know what the parameters are. Now we can start working on the solutions. Everything is wide open," he said.

Lawrence school district officials said full restoration of Local Option Budget aid would not result in any new funding for the district, but would reduce local property taxes in the district by about $1 million. That's because the district currently levies higher taxes than it otherwise would to make up for the reduced state funding.

The Lawrence district does not qualify for equalization aid for its capital improvements budget.

In today's much-anticipated ruling, the court said Kansas' poor school districts were harmed when the state made the decision to cut certain payments when tax revenues declined during the Great Recession.

The case also has broader implications beyond the classroom: Kansas enacted sweeping cuts to income taxes in 2012 and 2013 championed by Brownback that have reduced the amount of available resources to comply with a court order. Lawmakers could be forced to reconsider the tax measures, which Kansas and other Republican-run states have pushed as a means to stimulate their economies.

Kansas legislators had delayed any decisions on school funding until the high court made a final judgment.

At a news conference the Kansas National Education Association blamed Brownback for failing to restore recession-era cuts to schools while implementing massive tax cuts.

"The sacrifices and funding cuts were supposed to be temporary, but the first opportunity to live up to the promise to restore funding came and went," said KNEA President Karen Godfrey. "Instead, a tax policy was enacted that cut taxes for the wealthy and shifted the responsibility to the middle class and poorest Kansans. At the same time, we saw the largest cut to public education in state history," Godfrey said.

Because of the tax cuts, KNEA officials said they don't see how the state can sustain the amount of revenue needed for schools.

A state Department of Education official estimates legislators must increase funding by $129 million, in addition to the more than $3 billion the state has budgeted for the 2014-2015 school year. But longterm, a decision on providing an adequate amount of funding could require much more revenue.

"We have compromised the revenue system seriously," said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the KNEA. Brownback has said the tax cuts would stimulate the economy.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, blamed Brownback for the school finance mess, citing historically large cuts made by Brownback to schools. Davis, who is running for governor against Brownback, said he and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, offered a plan two years ago to restore cuts made to schools.

"That was a time when we could have restored these cuts. We saw this case bubbling up through the system. We wanted to get in front of it," Davis said.

"He (Brownback) chose a very reckless tax plan the state couldn't afford over funding our public schools," Davis said. Democrats have said the tax cuts will bankrupt state services, while Brownback has said the cuts will spur the economy.

The Davis-Hensley plan would have restored cuts to schools over three years with funds coming from state revenue that at that time had exceeded expectations. Asked how the Legislature comes up with funding now for schools, Davis said the Legislature will have to discuss that.

The lawsuit was filed in 2010 on behalf of parents and school districts who argued the state had harmed students because spending cuts resulted in lower test scores. State attorneys maintained that legislators did their best to minimize cuts to education.

A three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court said in January 2013 that the lawsuit was valid, and the state appealed that ruling to the high court.

John Robb, an attorney for the plaintiffs, saw Friday's ruling as a victory because the justices rejected the state's arguments that the issues in the case were political ones, to be determined by the Legislature and governor.

He predicted that after the next round of lower-court hearings, the outcome will mirror what happened previously: An order for the state to increase its total annual spending on schools by at least $440 million.

"I see that we have to go around the block again," he said.

Robb also said that the general guidelines set by the high court to help determine how much the state must spend overall are in line with what the parents and school districts had suggested.

Brownback, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and legislative leaders scheduled a Friday afternoon news conference to discuss the ruling.

"This is a complex decision that requires thoughtful review," Brownback said in a statement. "I will work with leadership in the Kansas Senate and House to determine a path forward that honors our tradition of providing a quality education to every child and that keeps our schools open, our teachers teaching and our students learning."

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stillwell, and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said they were reviewing the ruling.

Because no issues involving the U.S. Constitution were raised, there's no appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the lawsuit, attorneys representing four school districts and parents alleged that Kansas reneged on promises made in 2006 to provide a certain level of funding the Kansas' public schools, namely that the failure to provide money for classroom instruction has harmed the state's education system — including programs aimed at helping poor and minority students.

In recent years, school districts have trimmed their staffs, cut after-school programs and raised fees for parents. Classrooms became more crowded.

State attorneys had said legislators did the best they could to maintain education spending among the reduced available revenues during the recession, pointing to efforts to raise the state sales tax rate in 2010 and the reliance on federal stimulus funding to keep spending stable.

All states have language in their constitutions for providing public school funding. But Kansas' courts in the past have been strong and specific in spelling out how the state must carry out that responsibility, and education advocates wondered earlier this year whether the push in Kansas to base funding on costs — not political considerations — would continue, perhaps emboldening parents and educators in other states.

Brownback's personal income tax cuts will be worth nearly $3.9 billion over the next five years, and he has claimed that Kansas is leading a low-tax, small-government "American renaissance." Republican leaders in the GOP-dominated Legislature suggested before they convened in January that they might resist an order for more spending.


Brad Greenwood 4 years, 2 months ago

Just waiting now to see who'll be the first state official to thumb their nose at the Supreme Court... and the children of Kansas.

James Howlette 4 years, 2 months ago

They'll just use it as an excuse to push through more un-transparent measures to let Brownback just appoint the whole SC. It's what they've wanted all along.

James Howlette 4 years, 2 months ago

Are we really surprised that the state was underfunding the schools? No. I don't think we are.

Patricia Davis 4 years, 2 months ago

If we the people of Kansas do not work together to get rid of Brownback, we deserve his view of what Kansas really needs. This isn't about being a Democrat or a Republican. This is about what is fair to the children of Kansas. We need fair taxation for everyone and we need a state government that cares about this state—its history of tolerance and moderation—and its belief that education whether it is elementary and secondary, technical, college or above is the future for this state.

William Weissbeck 4 years, 2 months ago

Unanimous decision. It's not like reasonable minds could disagree.

Steve Jacob 4 years, 2 months ago

The additional money for schools will come from social programs cuts and layoffs of more state employees. Taxes will not go up paying for this, from the State anyway.

Brock Masters 4 years, 2 months ago

Exactly what I was thinking. Wonder what will be axed?

David Reber 4 years, 2 months ago

What will be axed, Brock, is base state aid per pupil. Unfortunately, this ruling leaves the wingnuts a clear path to comply without increasing K-12 funding by one dime.

This ruling orders the state to pay up on the equalization aid to districts that have a weaker tax that the differing ability to raise revenue from local sources doesn't foster enormous inequity among districts.

This ruling says nothing of what BSAPP must be. The Supreme Court tossed that back to the 3-judge panel to decide. Meanwhile, you can bet your (Brown)back-side that the money for the equalization aid will come right off the BSAPP. So, they will satisfy today's ruling by cutting base funding to ALL districts. And, they'll LOVE it - because it will generate the exact sort of in-fighting that plays right into their anti-education hands.

David Reber 4 years, 2 months ago

Until (unless) the lower court dictates a minumum $BSAPP, yes.

James Howlette 4 years, 2 months ago

Well, Brownback turned the next election into a tossup by virtue of his sheer unpopularity, so no, it's not just Lawrence that thinks he blows a lot.

Cheryl Nelsen 4 years, 2 months ago

Some of the legislators that support Brownback solidly and have introduced ridiculous bills are from the Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Wichita areas. I'm not sure I'd blame the rural people. Brownback is not going over well in Western Kansas.

James Howlette 4 years, 2 months ago

Indeed. They don't like having to fund poor rural schools with money they could be pumping into shiny Blue Valley.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

Tax cuts bring on tax increases somewhere to make up for the loss.


Worker's taxes siphoned off by their bosses - Thursday, April 26, 2012

Where is the $47 million tax dollars that belong to Kansas taxpayers?

My congratulations to workers in 16 states – from Kansas to Maine to Georgia, New Jersey to Colorado! Many of you will be thrilled to know that the income taxes deducted from your paychecks each month are going to a very worthy cause: your corporate boss.

Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center, has analyzed state programs meant to create jobs, but instead have created some $700 million a year in corporate welfare. This scam starts with the normal practice of corporations withholding from each employee's monthly check the state income taxes their workers owe.

Last year, Kansas used workers' withholding taxes to bribe AMC Entertainment with a $47 million payment to move its headquarters from downtown Kansas City, Missouri, to a KC suburb on the Kansas side, just 10 miles away. What a ripoff!

William Enick 4 years, 2 months ago

You are quite accurate Richard... this is the new reality. Our income taxes deducted from our paychecks are going straight into corporate bank accounts...repeat until realized. This is exactly why the corporations have been relentlessly advocating for small government. By small they really mean run by a few major corporations. The corporations have won and have almost complete control. Big government (By the people, for the people) organizes society as a whole... the 1% in mind as well as the 99%. Small government (corporations) organizes society by taking money from the 99% by law, thereby creating a powerful corporate state run by the 1%, for the 1%. This is reality people. Listen to - the one Richard has shown. It really is better to listen to it with someone listening with you. It seems unreal... you will need to have someone there listening so you can see each others jaws drop...

Beator 4 years, 2 months ago

I can hardly wait for the results more money will make in the children's intelligence!

William Enick 4 years, 2 months ago

It worked great in the 50's, 60's, and 70's... and is exactly why the 1% do NOT want it to work anymore. Today or in the future.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

It will help pay the salaries our educators deserve absolutely.

Just for the record…

Teacher Salary Support
Would you favor a sales tax increase to provide more money for Lawrence teacher salaries?

Of 5,198 votes increasing teacher salaries 4,204 votes in favor of increased teacher salaries.

The above demonstrates the strong feeling for rewarding our educators for time and effort in their never ending commitment to the students of USD 497. There were marches downtown that attracted large numbers including many elected officials.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 2 months ago

Money matters in education. If it didn't the well off schools would give money away. Find another institution where money doesn't matter. I do not hear private businesses stating this, and the military sure thinks money is important.

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