Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback called on lawmakers today to approve full equalization funding for two areas of the state's K-12 education budget, a move that is estimated to cost an additional $129 million per year.
"The solution to the equity problem will require significant new funding," Brownback said in a statement released this afternoon, "and the administration will work with legislative leadership to identify the necessary additional funding."
But he left open the possibility of paying at least part of that cost by finding "efficiencies" in other parts of the education budget, a suggestion that Democratic leaders say they staunchly oppose.
Brownback's statement came one day after Attorney General Derek Schmidt urged legislators to do the same in order to resolve at least part of a Supreme Court ruling handed down March 7 in a school finance lawsuit.
House and Senate budget committees are expected to begin work Thursday crafting an education budget for next year, and leaders of those committees have said they may want to tie the increased funding to other policy issues like teacher licensing requirements.
“I have had good discussions with legislators and education superintendents concerning school finance,” Brownback said in a statement released this afternoon. But then he added, “My highest priority is that dollars need to go to the classroom and our students.”
Some Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee on Monday expressed concern that most of the money would reduce local property taxes and would not add to resources available for schools.
In his statement, Brownback identified his “guiding principles” for education funding, the first of which being “the equity issues raised by the court should be completely addressed this year.”
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said that legislative cuts since 2009 in equalization funding for local option budgets and capital outlay budgets have created wealth-based disparities between districts that are unconstitutional.
“Local Option Budget authority should remain intact and be fully equalized,” Brownback said. Also, “capital outlay authority should remain in tact and be fully equalized.”
He also hinted that the Legislature should consider expanding districts' LOB authority — currently capped at 31 percent of their base state aid — by saying, “local school boards should be given the opportunity to send additional funding to the classroom to help their students succeed if we can give them the necessary authority to do so and maintain equity.”
Although legislative leaders have said they are committed to resolving the equity issues this year, so far they have not committed to providing the full $129 million. Nor have they said where they plan to find the money.
During a briefing on school finance earlier today in the House budget committee, some GOP members suggested changing the method for counting “at risk” students. Others asked questions about transportation costs.
Brownback suggested he is willing to consider such changes. “If there are opportunities for legitimate efficiencies to be found within the school finance formula, they should be considered,” he said.
But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said that would be a mistake.
"If you play around with those kinds of things, you're playing with fire," Hensley said. You're taking away from poor kids, and that goes to the very heart of equity. That's what the court has said we need to do, and they said we need to do it by July 1."
Hensley also said he didn't understand why it was necessary to have “guiding principles” on school finance.
“This is a simple fix,” he said. “Just support the bills introduced (by Democrats) in the House and Senate that would fully fund LOB equalization and capital outlay equalization. If you want to fix it, it's real simple.”