Archive for Saturday, November 18, 2017

Opinion: Time for a reboot on school funding

November 18, 2017


The Kansas Supreme Court has again ruled the state’s school funding system unconstitutional. So, how much money will the Legislature have to throw at the problem to get the court to go away?

The above question, commonly asked by legislators and journalists alike, is the wrong way to frame the issue — and that is part of the problem.

In its fifth — yes, fifth — decision in Gannon v. Kansas, the Kansas Supreme Court has set a deadline of June 30, 2018, to find solutions.

Legislators would get a lot further if they asked the questions posed in the rulings themselves: How much funding is required to achieve both adequacy and equity in public education throughout Kansas?

In determining the answer, the court relied on a 2002 report commissioned by the Legislature from the firm Augenblick and Myers. In the study, researchers used two years of standardized test data to identify successful schools in Kansas. They then identified the amount of money per pupil needed to achieve this level of success, adjusting those totals for the higher costs of providing opportunities for students whose families have lower incomes, as measured by the percentage of free and reduced-price school lunches.

This time, the state proposed a new approach to the court, but it was weak — no, make that pathetic. The state’s attorneys had the Kansas Legislative Research Department prepare a four-page memo in which the common statistical tool called regression analysis was used to measure the impact of certain independent variables on the dependent variable (student performance). School districts performing better than predicted by the model were then identified and those were put forth as the new benchmarks for success.

Regression is fine as a statistical tool — it is also used in the Augenblick and Myers report — but the state’s proposal was sketchy and poorly labeled. It did not list all school districts measured, nor was it specific regarding what exactly constitutes student performance. Furthermore, as noted by the court, many of the districts proposed as benchmarks in fact have high percentages of students performing below grade level on reading and math. Apparently, the Kansas Legislature decided to just phone it in this time. The judges were unimpressed.

If the Legislature scrapes together all the couch-cushion money it can find to just satisfy the court again next year, look for a Gannon 6 decision in our near future, with the usual outcome.

Time for a reboot. The Augenblick and Myers report is so old that plaintiffs and the state could not even agree on how to account for inflation since it was issued. The Legislature should commission a comprehensive new study to set benchmarks, based on documented best practices and truly successful Kansas schools, educating students at all income and skill levels. In the meantime, the new Gannon raises immediate concerns about the fate of students on free/reduced lunches and those with special needs. Justices also castigated the state for shifting school funding back to local sources, which worsens inequality, since some districts are much wealthier than others. These concerns can and should be addressed immediately, while awaiting the results of a comprehensive new study.

As for that new study, this is no time for political wrangling. There only need to be five criteria: a proven track record doing studies like this, adherence to best practices in the field, no conflict of interest, a promise of timely results and a competitive bid. The study should be guided by goals articulated in the landmark Rose decision from Kentucky, which the court relied upon in Gannon: “substantial uniformity, substantial equality of financial resources and substantial equal educational opportunity for all students.”

Kansas still is not doing this.

After five Gannon rulings, what do we have to lose by trying something new?

— Michael A. Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University.


Bob Summers 4 months ago

Yes. More money will make teachers try harder.

Will the monetarily revitalized teacher bring students proficiency in math, science and reading out of the world wide cellar?

According to critical thinkers, all it takes is more of someone else's money.

P Allen Macfarlane 4 months ago

Another silly response.

As citizens living in a democracy, it's one for all and all for one. Success of all our citizens, including the most vulnerable, should be our top priority. When they succeed, we all succeed.

It's not about your money, it is about fairness in the face social and economic inequality.

Larry Tucker 4 months ago

Public education in the Kansas Constitution is based on adequate funding for all students across the state. No matter where you were born or live in the Sunflower state, all kids regardless of background or wealth should receive an equal education. And that doesn't mean just the core subjects. Fine arts, language, music, college prep and technical prep subjects should also be available to kids in Kansas. Public education equalizes the opportunities for all children born or living in Kansas no matter what wealth resides in their communities. I support the author's approach and ask that our elected officials keep this in mind when trying to satisfy the Court's opinion. The future of our state requires it.

Larry Tucker Olathe KS

Carol Bowen 4 months ago

It’s time to look beyond the politics, and work on substance. The writer has described how silly the state has been in its proposals to the state supreme court. In fact, the state legislature tried to discredit and defund the court. It’s almost like the state legislators do not understand how to fund effective programs.

Throwing money at the schools does not help. We cannot go back to the old funding system. It’s outdated. We have to set up a new funding system for education based on curricula and equity.

Very good summary and focus by Michael Smith.

Andrew Applegarth 4 months ago

At least part of the solution is quite simple. The courts have hinted at it in multiple ruling but I have yet to see them say it bluntly. The first step the legislature should take to comply with the court ruling is to replace the Local Option Budgets with a statewide tax assessment and then distribute those funds in an equitable manner. There cannot be statewide equity in education as long as school districts can levy their own taxes and upset the balance.

Steve Jacob 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Very little will change because we have figured out the courts threats of shutting the schools are empty threat.

Richard Heckler 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Reinstate Public Education Taxes

VOTERS should have learned a lesson which is the republican party has been subverted by radical right wingers = extremely unfortunate.

VOTERS MUST STOP STOP voting for a republican party that in no longer republican then vote democrat in future elections which is a fiscally smart choice. Why?

It is the GOP led by libertarian right wing politicians that has effectively rendered Kansas bankrupt. And operates is a massive veil of secrecy that denies other elected officials information on tax breaks as well as who receives tax breaks and how many dollars.

ALEC = those pretending to be republicans.

Time to reward Kansas taxpayers for the pain and suffering extended to them by the Brownback administration guided by ALEC leadership.

Reinstating public school funding with my tax dollars should not require a lot of thinking. It does however require a ton of ethical stamina.

Cut all corporate welfare spending that should be allocated to public education and higher education! The real payback.

Then cut sales taxes on the following:

--- school supplies from kindergarten – college graduation

--- groceries

--- all healthcare related purchases

Reinstate all of the mortgage interest deduction.

NOT Republican Brownback people will continue to follow the ALEC agenda which is waging war against Medicaid, the large middle class, Women, public education, Social Security Insurance, Medicare and voting rights.

VOTERS MUST STOP STOP STOP voting for a republican party that in no longer republican. We need transparency and ethics = stop supporting massive deception.

Gary Stussie 3 months, 4 weeks ago

"vote democrat in future elections which is a fiscally smart choice." ... fiscally responsive Democrats? What planet are you from?

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