Archive for Thursday, January 1, 2015

Kansas school finance ruling could pave way to overhaul formula

January 1, 2015


— Tuesday's court ruling in the ongoing school finance lawsuit could open the door for something Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican leaders in the Legislature have long been calling for — an overhaul of the state's school finance formula.

That's the assessment of Kansas University constitutional law professor Rick Levy. But he said lawmakers should be careful to make sure any new formula is designed to produce the results that the courts are now saying are expected.

"If I were advising the Legislature, I would start over and craft a formula based on what it takes to achieve the outcomes, and see where that takes you," Levy said. "If they think there are savings to be had, then craft the appropriate law in a way that targets those savings."

Related document

Gannon vs. Kansas, District Court Ruling ( .PDF )

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday in the case of Gannon vs. Kansas that current funding for public schools is unconstitutional. And while the judges did not order lawmakers to increase funding by a specific amount, they suggested that under the current formula, it could require raising the base aid formula to $4,654 per pupil. The current funding level is $3,852 per pupil.

The funding formula is used to determine each school district's spending authority. Districts actually receive more than the per-pupil amount because of "weighting" factors that apply to students from low-income households, non English-speaking households and other students who are more difficult, and more expensive, to educate. Weighting factors also apply to school districts with rapidly declining, or rapidly growing, enrollment.

Kansas Department of Education officials estimate that would cost at least $548 million a year. But the total price would likely be higher because under the current formula, an increase in base aid also triggers increases in other school spending.

But the judges also left open the possibility for other options and said the adequacy of whatever plan lawmakers come up with will be judged by its results.

"(T)he affirmative path to compliance and its duration may well rest in sincerity, practicality, and reasonable accommodation," the judges said. "A renewed effort at mediation focused on a remedy would seem appropriate, yet, at the parties choice."

Brownback and some Republican legislative leaders have said they think it's time to overhaul the formula anyway. And Levy said Tuesday's ruling could be seen as an invitation to do just that.

But Levy said one thing lawmakers ought to avoid is repeating of what happened in 2005 in response to the previous school finance case, Montoy vs. Kansas, when the Kansas Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to increase funding. Then, lawmakers were called into special session, but House Republican leaders at first refused to comply with the court order, prompting the court to threaten to shut down public schools until the Legislature complied.

In the end, lawmakers relented and passed a bill phasing in about $500 million in additional funding over three years, along with a statute that was supposed to guaranty future funding would be based on continually updated estimates of actual costs.

But that Montoy plan soon fell apart and the state began cutting education spending in 2009 when state revenues plummeted in the wake of the Great Recession. And by the time the economy started to recover and revenues rebounded, newly elected Brownback pursued a policy of enacting sweeping tax cuts instead of restoring base school funding to its pre-recession levels.

That prompted many of the same plaintiffs in the Montoy case to file the current lawsuit. Initially, the three-judge panel ordered lawmakers to restore funding to the levels that had been promised in the Montoy remedy, but the Supreme Court struck down that part of the decision and remanded the case to the panel for reconsideration using a different standard.

Instead of focusing on the actual cost, the court said in March that adequacy of funding should be determined by a different standard based on the results that funding produces. And those results would be measured using a set of educational outcomes known as the "Rose standards."

Tuesday's decision by the three-judge panel is certain to be appealed again to the Supreme Court. But in the meantime, Levy said, lawmakers should focus on funding education budgets at a level needed to achieve those results and building a record to explain why they think a particular level of funding is sufficient.


Beth Newman 3 years, 2 months ago

The Republican Control Freaks Say: Open Up Your (corporate) Wallets! It's Time To Privatize!

Devin Wilson 3 years, 2 months ago

The formula isn't the problem. #FundTheFormula We're cheating our Kansas schoolkids to the tune of over HALF A BILLION DOLLARS ANNUALLY.

William Weissbeck 3 years, 2 months ago

Rick is a smart guy. Smarter than the combined legislature. He should know that giving the legislature the opportunity to change the formula simply gives them the opportunity to hide the money. Until the governor and the legislature acknowledge that the primary function of a state is to provide a public education essentially equal in its resources to all its children such that the need for private education is rare and used by those for reasons other than the quality of the education.

Larry Sturm 3 years, 2 months ago

Number one no tax dollars should be spent on private schools. Number two private schools should be required to spend the same amount per student as public schools and use all of the public school standards.

Tracy Rogers 3 years, 2 months ago

I completely agree with your first point, no tax dollars should be spent on private schools period. But how can you justify your second point? Private means private. They can choose what they want to teach and how they teach it. Parents have the choice whether or not they want their children going to school there.

Kate Rogge 3 years, 2 months ago

Aren't private schools already required to meet State education standards? Surely that means the State has a legal licensing interest in ensuring private school's compliance with State public school standards for its curriculum? A high school degree should require the same class instruction content and tested proficiencies regardless of whether it was obtained at a public or private high school. That means teaching science as science, not as Bible studies.

Kate Rogge 3 years, 2 months ago

Thank you, Eileen. I was wrong. I'd thought "schools" had to provide education at least to the GED level, however larded with private ideology and profit.

Kate Rogge 3 years, 2 months ago

Doesn't the State already have licensing authority for private schools? That authority is in place to require equality of education standards, regardless of public or private provider, so students receive degrees that reflect the same basic requirements for education. I can't open a private school and issue valid Kansas high school diplomas if all I want to teach the children enrolled in my school is how to program a VCR and detail my car.

Larry Sturm 3 years, 2 months ago

All Kansas school districts should sue the governor and the legislature over inadequate school funding.

Lynn Grant 3 years, 2 months ago

Overhauling the school finance formula with this governor and his ultra conservative Legislature is a scary proposition. They have already showed their disdain for public education and animosity toward teachers and school staff (as well as all public employees). How can we expect a rational, equitable revision that, as Mr. Levy says, will achieve outcomes to provide our public schools the resources they need to succeed? Totally agree with William Weissbeck.

Paul R Getto 3 years, 2 months ago

A new formula won't help. The Constitution is the source of the Legislators' problem.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

Selling off public education to the highest corporate bidders is what the right wing libertarians call reform.

Any wise words of wisdom that have been offered up fall on deaf ears. The right wing libertarian agenda is written in stone.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed offers up some messages of substance ......

Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

I also acknowledge the words of William Weissbeck:

"Rick is a smart guy. Smarter than the combined legislature. He should know that giving the legislature the opportunity to change the formula simply gives them the opportunity to hide the money. Until the governor and the legislature acknowledge that the primary function of a state is to provide a public education essentially equal in its resources to all its children such that the need for private education is rare and used by those for reasons other than the quality of the education."

Kate Rogge 3 years, 2 months ago

Governor Brownback and the Republican-controlled Kansas legislators do not want to fund public education. It's the biggest cost of Kansas government, and State support for public schools will be obliterated by those who can afford to educate their children as they wish and to hell with everyone else. Diverting the little bits of tax revenue left to pay for their private schools is just icing on a cake we'll never eat.

It's an odd combination of Social Darwinism and Supply-Side Jesus. God loves the rich and powerful, and rewards them with more wealth and power as a sign of his favor. If God loved the rest of us, we wouldn't need help, and if we do need help, why should they second-guess God? Control all three branches of State government. Deny us access to health care and education, keep us poorly paid, restrict our voting rights, eliminate women's civil rights, break public service unions, keep building more jails, and keep us in fear of losing even more. That's some blueprint for governance, isn't it?

Brock Masters 3 years, 2 months ago

I think instead of messing with the formula or trying to figure out how to get around the court order and just fund the school's AND pass legislation that would require standardized and transparent budgeting for the schools. Let some sunshine in on how money they have and how the funds are spent.

Kate Rogge 3 years, 2 months ago

School Cash Insufficient in Kansas, Court Finds

“The formula’s fine,” said John S. Robb, one of the lawyers representing the school districts and individuals suing the state in the lawsuit, Gannon v. Kansas. “But you got to fund it. You got to fund whatever you do. They did not find the formula was wrong. So Brownback’s trying to fix something that’s not broken.”

Actually, Brownback plans to break every state agency that's not yet broken. He wants to starve the state of tax revenue until there is simply no money to fund Kansas state government at all. Support for public schools will be thrown back to each county and its towns to fund their own schools. That's still possible for Johnson and Sedgwick counties, and may be okay for Douglas County and others, but there's going to be serious hell to pay elsewhere throughout the state.

We keep pretending we've seen the worst of what he's willing to do, and that he won't really burn us all down to the ground, but that's exactly where this ends.

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