Archive for Thursday, March 2, 2017

School finance ruling has Democrats ecstatic; Brownback uses it to tout need for school choice

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

March 2, 2017, 5:21 p.m. Updated March 2, 2017, 6:06 p.m.


— Democrats and public school advocates in Kansas were ecstatic Thursday over the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision that struck down the current “block grant” system of funding schools as inadequate and unconstitutional.

But in sharp contrast to similar court decisions in the past, Thursday’s decision in Gannon vs. Kansas produced only muted responses from Republican leaders in Kansas.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, whose office defended the state throughout the litigation, issued only a muted response after the decision was announced.

“The people’s elected representatives in the Legislature face difficult decisions in the coming weeks,” he said. “In addressing the system’s adequacy, the Legislature must take care to preserve the equity in distribution of funds that the court previously upheld.”

“One thing is clear,” he added. “The State’s interest in bringing this litigation to an end can best be met by a bold legislative response, enacted swiftly, squarely targeting the constitutional defects the court identified.”

Gov. Sam Brownback, who was sharply critical of the court for some of its earlier rulings, said he agreed with the part of Thursday’s ruling that said many Kansas children currently are not receiving a suitable education. He then turned that into a springboard to argue in favor of “school choice” measures such as charter schools or private school vouchers.

“Furthermore, the time has come to equip parents of struggling students with the power they need to determine the best education for their child, Brownback said in a statement late Thursday. “If they believe a quality education is not possible in their local public school, they should be given the opportunity and resources to set their child up for success through other educational choices.”

But Thursday’s decision was vastly different from previous decision in that it did not directly order lawmakers to increase funding, but only set a June 30 deadline for them to pass a funding system that would meet constitutional muster, a deadline lawmakers had already imposed on themselves in 2015 when they enacted the temporary, two-year block grant system to begin with.

After another school finance ruling in 2005, when the court ordered a massive increase in school funding, it prompted a special session that 12 days while conservatives in the House dug in their heels, threatening to defy the court’s order and daring the court to close public schools.

And as recently as 2014, in his State of the State address just before the court issued its first decision in the Gannon case, Brownback aimed remarks directly at the justices who were seated in the room, declaring, “Let us resolve that our schools remain open and are not closed by the courts or anyone else.”

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who was a harsh critic of earlier court rulings on school finance, did not criticize Thursday’s decision, saying it confirmed that “legislators are the state’s chief policy makers and money appropriators.”

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in both Chambers to get a bill to the Governor’s desk that puts the needs of students first. Educating our children is imperative to our state’s success, and it is our duty to provide Kansas students with the resources they need to thrive,” she said.

Conservative opposition to the court’s earlier rulings were also an element of unsuccessful campaigns in 2014 and 2016 to unseat certain justices who were standing for retention in those elections.

Ryan Wright, who led a pro-court counter campaign called Kansans for Fair Courts, issued a statement Thursday praising the most recent decision.

“In November, voters sent a strong message to Governor Brownback and his allies to stop playing politics with our children’s education, by retaining all five justices to the Kansas Supreme Court,” Wright said. “It’s time to bring this issue to a close, fund our schools and solve this problem.”

Lawrence school district officials also had no immediate reaction to the decision. When asked for a comment, district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said she and Superintendent Kyle Hayden, “have not had time to review the decision.”

Eudora school district superintendent Steve Splichal, however, praised the decision, saying it is now up the the Legislature to respond.

“While it will take time to see how legislators address this ruling and develop a new finance formula, today is reason to celebrate,” he said. “Today marks a critical moment in our state’s commitment to great public schools in Kansas, which began generations earlier.”

Last fall, the Kansas State Board of Education submitted a budget request that members said was intended to address earlier rulings in the Gannon case that said adequacy of funding should be measured by the educational outcomes it produces. That budget request called for $841 million in additional K-12 education spending over the next two fiscal years.

On Thursday, board chairman Jim Porter of Fredonia and vice chair Kathy Busch of Wichita issued a joint statement saying, “Based on today’s Supreme Court ruling, it appears the FY 2018 and 2019 budgets as submitted by the state board are consistent with the court’s ruling.”

The conservative Kansas Policy Institute said it wasn’t surprised by the ruling because the block grant formula was intended to be only temporary anyway.

“With low income children two to three grade levels behind their higher income peers, and stagnating achievement overall, we must demand accountability of schools to deliver better educational opportunities to our children,” KPI president Dave Trabert said.

Democratic leaders were more quick to respond to the decision, saying the decision only confirmed what they had argued for many years, that public schools in Kansas are being grossly under-funded.

“You’re only in first grade one time. You’re only a senior in high school one time. We have to get this right, and we have to do it right now,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said. “The future of Kansas children depends on it.”

House Democratic Leader Jim Ward of Wichita also said the decision was expected.

“This is no surprise, but a great victory for our Kansas school children,” he said. “Now it’s time for the Legislature to get to work, do our jobs, and ensure that we fulfill the order set forth by the Kansas Supreme Court.

Kansas Families for Education, a group that supported Democratic and moderate Republican candidates in the 2016 elections, also said it was pleased with the decision.

“It has now become abundantly clear that Kansas must turn away from the road to ruin that the Brownback tax policy has been leading us on for too long and return to responsible budgeting that allows us to fund our priorities,” said KFE board member Chris Cindric of Overland Park.

Education reporter Joanna Hlavacek contributed to this story.


Greg Cooper 1 year, 3 months ago

School choice?!? Really, Sam? Why don't you go ahead and say what you mean, that school choice means taking public money and giving it to private companies/churches instead of making free PUBLIC education work better? I'm sorry, but you'll not get very far by telling me and hundreds of thousands of Kansans that their tax money is going to support for-profit entities. And I don't care what Trabert and his cronies say.

Bob Summers 1 year, 3 months ago

Keep kids in government school, since most if not all adults on welfare went to public school, so they will continue to vote Democrat.

Good plan Mr. Cooper.

Greg Cooper 1 year, 3 months ago

Well, well, well. So, you have the opportunity to convert me to your way, Summers. Here's your big chance: prove that. If you can, I'll take back every mean thing I ever said about your education bull. I really will. I promise.

Go for it, windbag. Up the ante and win this hand.

Rick Masters 1 year, 3 months ago

Most, if not all, adults on welfare have also been to the movies, driven on a public road, read more than one book, worn a hat, consumed fluoridated water, pet a dog and/or cat, looked at a map, taken a gander online (or "surfed the internet" if that clarifies things), been introduced to the Christmas and Easter stories, wondered at one point "Who shot JR?," eaten eggs that contained a smidge of the shell still in them, put money into some sort of machine doo-hickey, and so on.

It's practically a Causation Parade around here.

Kristine Matlock 1 year, 3 months ago

So Bob, what private school did you go to? Was all of your education through expensive private schools?

Richard Neuschafer 1 year, 3 months ago

Summers is about as good of an example as there is against home schooling.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 3 months ago

Surprisingly, Bob, in my own personal experience, almost everyone I know either on welfare or living on SSdisablity hate the federal government and voted for Trump. Of course that's just in my personal life. Most of the liberals I know have gotten lots of education, in public schools and universities and they all vote Democrat. Hmmm.

Michael Kort 1 year, 3 months ago

Well it is about welfare,...... as Bob suggests.......WELFARE FOR THE RICH.......... so that they can send their kids to private or religious based schools on the public school dime .

So could a Christian kid choose to attend a private Islamic or Jewish school ?........that would be interesting ?........or maybe just beyond the scope of brownies considerations of the political moment of yesterday .

And will private schools be forced to take a violent behaving or acting out kid into their classrooms and to tollerate an ongoing discipline problem as public schools have to do ?

Mike Davis 1 year, 3 months ago

I taught in Kansas public schools for six years. I got out, not because of the teachers, not because of the administration but because you have a small percentage of students and parents who are complete morons. These parents and students have no interest in a quality education, they are rude, foul mouth, they set off fires in bathrooms, start fights at the drop of a hat, disrupt classroom learning, are rude and violent towards teachers and administration ... sure sounds likes fun. If you want to improve Kansas education get rid of the morons and let the parents and kids who want a great education get one and the others can learn to flip hamburgers or dig ditches.

Bob Summers 1 year, 3 months ago

Generations of government schooling does that to a "small percentage" of society.

Look at what government schooling is doing to the country overall.

Theodore Calvin 1 year, 3 months ago

Bob, where do you suggest we cut in schools? You have no idea. You speak in platitudes. Name me 3 budgetary items in the Kansas School Budget where we can cut, the amount, and how you would go about implementing those cuts. Please also calculate a percent to total of budget your items actually cut out, so we can see if what you suggest is even a drop in the bucket. Until you can, please refrain from talking on this issue.

Theodore Calvin 1 year, 3 months ago

I'll help you Bob. See the links for our own state legislature's post audits of school districts.

Our own government says KS schools are running pretty well. Most POTENTIAL savings are borne from school consolidation, not filling open positions, reducing transportation, reducing extra-curricular activities, and pooling school food resources (purchasing, cooking, etc). The most savings I found was 8% of a districts total budget (Prairie Hills District, and this was due to closing/consolidating the Wetmore school. Trabert keeps saying "same for less," but this isn't that.

Greg Cooper 1 year, 3 months ago

I apologize, Theodore, but you obviously don't know that you're replying to the only brick wall in existence who has learned to type, but carry on. Perhaps one of your facts will replace the cornerstone in the wall.

Theodore Calvin 1 year, 3 months ago

I know Greg. I don't expect a cogent answer. But at least by posting real facts and asking real questions his bloviations won't go unchecked.

Greg Cooper 1 year, 3 months ago

Hey, brick wall, read the following, if you can. It is a pretty comprehensive survey that shows little statistical difference through grade eight between the public and private schools, tested on math and reading. Take into account the FACT that public schools also include comprehensive programs for at risk, special needs children that most private schools do not, and it looks as if we're getting a damned good result from our public schools. Given that it costs a lot more to attend a private school (a fact that has not been addressed in the publicly funded school/publicly funded private school rhetoric) it looks as if Kansas already has a choice program that works.

So, Summers, do look. Look what the entire education system is accomplishing, and then look at what parental involvement, socio-economic factors, you know, stuff like that, has done for the country. You will find, if you're honest with yourself, that the education system we now have is doing pretty damned well.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 3 months ago

How are these kids that Mike is talking about the fault of the schools, Bob? Schools aren't suppose to be raising the kids, just educating them.

Greg Cooper 1 year, 3 months ago

I'm really sorry about your related experience as a teacher, Mike Davis. It's true, there are some bad apples. But, and this is my take, having taught school myself: it always seemed to me that one reason I was up in front of that class was to really teach. Not just cipherin', singin', readin' or whatever i was hired to do, but to instill in the kids not only a respect but a love of knowledge. When I ran into that kind of kid, i did my level best to do all I could to engage the kid in the class, but also to get the entire team involved in the kid's overall school experience. I realized that one can not, in some cases, reach through the upbringing the kid has had, but that schools employ or contract with those whose job it is to really get inside the kid's head and help the teacher tailor learning to what the kid needs. Am I saying you were a bad or ineffective teacher? Not by any means. What I am saying is that those services are available to the kid as well as, through parental conferences and interaction, to the family. Are those services available in private school? I have no idea. But I do know that, as a parent, I can confer with the school to find a way to help the lower producing kid.

No teacher is ever going to be 100% successful in his job. But, through the help that public schools provide for the teacher, the teacher can approach a number that makes him/her satisfied that he has made a difference.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

Let's get on with this and STOP trying to initate the ALEC private school system on the backs of students,teachers and taxpayers.

It is time to put up the money instead of holding back and missppropriating public school tax dollars.

What is wrong with Kansas legislators? Sam Brownback is not their dictator he is only a radical right wing poltician working for the Koch dollars and NOT the Kansas taxpayers.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

Governor Brownback school choice has been around longer than you have been a corrupt politician.

Bankrupting STATE GOVERNMENTS under ALEC guidelines is following guidelines provided by the Anti American Legislative Exchange Council. Which in effect makes this situation premeditated and calculated. Perhaps criminal.

As a parent I want some influence and direct tax dollar interaction with those educating the children in the bottom line and I want the BOE to be parents from the community.

If anyone has children they know there are many education opportunities available in the USA. For more than 100 years choices have been available.

For example:

Public schools

Private Schools

Parochial Schools

Waldorf Schools

Home Schools

Art Schools

Dance Schools

Tutors are available

The answer is no to these outsiders wandering around the country looking to to make a buck on the back of my tax dollar NO NO NO.

ALEC sees vouchers as a way to radically privatize the public education system yet wanting the taxpayers to cover their expenses = NO WAY JOSE' !!!

Under the guise of “school choice,” ALEC pushes bills with titles like “Parental Choice Scholarship Act” and the “Education Enterprise Act” that establish private school voucher programs.

Bob Reinsch 1 year, 3 months ago

We already have school choice. If you want to send your kids to a school that also indoctrinates into a religious belief, that's fine, but I don't want my tax dollars paying for it.

Cille King 1 year, 3 months ago

"But as Kevin Carey reported in The Times just last week, new research shows that voucher programs may actually harm many students by shunting them into low-quality private schools. Taken together, three of the largest voucher programs in the country, enrolling nearly 180,000 children nationwide, showed negative results.

A 2015 study of an Indiana program that served tens of thousands of students found that voucher students who transferred to private schools did significantly worse in mathematics — and showed no improvement in reading."

Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

These right wing for profit so called charter schools don't require degrees for teaching.

Ohio took back their public school system through a referendum = the voters stepped up to the plate.

At least one North Carolina school district took back their district through a special vote which ousted ALEC school board members. Lawrence voters beware .......

Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

"Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who was a harsh critic of earlier court rulings on school finance, did not criticize Thursday’s decision, saying it confirmed that “legislators are the state’s chief policy makers and money appropriators.”

Hasn't it always been that way?

Sen Susan Wagle are you going to back the taxpayers and the courts decision? You have been throwing students and taxpayers under the bus for a few years. It's time to redeem yourself.

Phillip Chappuie 1 year, 3 months ago

Vouchers to be used by parental choice for parochial systems = direct violation of separation of church and state. Please, not with my dimes. Religious indoctrination is for church only and not education. Public dollars should not go to cults.

Larry Sturm 1 year, 3 months ago

Where in the Kansas constitution does Brownback read that tax dollars should fund private schools? I think that the supreme court should hold brownback in contempt or put him in jail for all the money he has stolen from all the agency's in Kansas.

Paul Beyer 1 year, 3 months ago

How does choice save money? Still funded, so how does that save money? State is still paying, but private schools get rich off taxpayer money.

Paul Brozik 1 year, 3 months ago

Kansas spends about 13000 per student in public schools. Currently states with school choice programs probably give parents less than half of that. So it saves the taxpayers a significant amount of money.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 3 months ago

In what universe is a for profit school going to open in Western Kansas or for that matter in any small town in Kansas?

The reason the private schools seem to do a good job is because they can refuse to accept any student who doesn't perform well. They are not crippled by the hoops that politicians have put up for public schools to jump through. Funny how conservatives want to take regulations away from private businesses, so they can pollute and make unsafe work places, but they put more and more regulations on public schools. Hmmm, I wonder why. Could they be trying to destroy public schools?

Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

A sound and well financed public education system has been known to be an important hefty equation into mantaining a strong local economy,

Nancy Hamilton 1 year, 3 months ago

I am thrilled to hear that our Gov. is concerned about low income and at risk kids. Here are some things he can do to help them. 1) stop implementing legislation designed to make it harder to use and spend money for food stamps and other programs 2) Raise the minimum wage so that parents don't have to rely on food stamps to feed their families or work at two jobs. Maybe if parents could spend more time with their kids, there would be fewer discipline problems. 3) Make sure all families in KS have access to high quality health care. A sick kid can't pay attention, no matter how hard teachers work. When I hear that our gov has addressed those issues, then I will know that he sincerely cares about at-risk kids.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

So how much money is needed?

This is an interesting question. The Court did not suggest an amount, instead using achievement standards (the Rose Standards as coded into Kansas law, see pg 5) to indicate that a quarter of Kansas school children are not able to read and write at the level they should. The Court left it up to the Legislature to determine how much money it would take to rectify this situation. Estimates range from $500 million to almost $1 billion, depending on who you ask.

And who you ask is important. The ruling is being interpreted very differently by all sides. In fact, everyone seems pleased with the ruling, a sure sign that politics is about to rear its head.

The Governor

If you ask Governor Brownback, he will tell you that he agrees with the Court that some schools are failing their students, and he thinks school vouchers are the solution. They are not. Vouchers take public funds and give them to private or parochial schools to enroll a formerly public school student. These schools are not subject to the same accreditation standards of public schools, do not have to provide special education services, and can reject students if they do not measure up to arbitrary academic standards. They are not available to most rural students, and have a history nationwide of failing both financially and academically. Money given over to voucher schools contributes to underfunding public school systems, resulting in poor outcomes for students in both situations.

His allies

If you ask the Governor's allies in the Legislature, some will parrot the Governor's voucher solution. Others have already begun to claim that the Court's ruling only requires that they fund those failing students, and that money could be shifted from other schools (resulting in panicky head-bobbing in some wealthy districts). But this ignores some of the Court's most compelling arguments in their decision. At one point, they note that since 2010, when Gannon was filed, the state has reduced funding of public education by $511 million! They also cited earlier findings that money makes a difference in student achievement. And they cited witnesses' evidence that cutting teaching positions and freezing pay impacts teaching quality, which is the most important factor for student achievement.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

Education advocates

Finally, if you ask education advocates in the Legislature, in educational organizations, and in schools, they will all tell you that chronic underfunding has been the problem for years, and that a fully funded system is what is needed, not a hackneyed, piecemeal band-aid. They note that the original school funding formula, derided by extremists conservatives as "unworkable," was never fully funded, and as such, was never allowed to work. Critics complained that formulas are "too complicated," yet provide only simplistic one-size fits all block grants as alternatives. School funding is a complex problem, and children across the state encounter many different hurdles to achievement, among them long bus rides, unfamiliarity with English, poor nutrition or poverty, learning disabilities, little access to early education, etc. A funding solution must be able to address all of those issues, to ensure an equitable opportunity for all Kansas kids. A complex problem requires a complete, compassionate, fully funded solution.

What will happen next?

In the next weeks, the Kansas Legislature will argue about money. They will argue about where to get it, when they were already three votes shy of recognizing that Brownback's irresponsible tax cuts have left, not only education, but infrastructure, health care, investments, our credit rating, and his own party in shambles. There will be votes to return taxes to modest levels, votes that Kansans have shown they support. There will be votes to take one-time funds and borrow money and perhaps delay repayments, all measures required by the depth of the Brownback Hole we find ourselves in. And there will be grandstanding by a select few who cry "all taxes are theft," while voting for sales taxes impacting the lowest income Kansans.

But as time grows short, we predict that the majority of lawmakers, urged on by their constituents, will come around the table and will work out a solution that meets the Court's criteria: that all Kansas students have the opportunity to succeed, no matter where they live, how they learn, or how much money they have.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

After the many years of illegally cutting public education funds the state should be coughing up ONE BILLION TAX DIOLLARS and be glad that we taxpayers might be willing to accept.

Steve King 1 year, 3 months ago

The real falicy is private schools don't have to adhear to any set standards.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

and the teaching staff are not required to have have credentials necessarily.

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