Archive for Friday, November 24, 2017

School finance response could include Kansas constitutional amendment

The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

November 24, 2017

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— A special legislative committee will begin meeting Dec. 4 to examine possible responses to the Kansas Supreme Court's latest decision in the ongoing school finance case, Gannon v. Kansas, and one of the responses the panel may consider is rewriting a part of the Kansas Constitution that has been at the heart of the legal controversy over school finance.

That provision, contained in Article 6, Section 6, is the one that says, "The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state."

That provision is similar to many other state constitutions. And in Kansas, as in those other states, courts have consistently ruled that in order to meet constitutional muster, states must fund their schools both adequately and equitably.

Adopted by a constitutional amendment in 1966, that is the provision that courts have relied upon in ruling that the Legislature has failed to adequately fund public schools. And it's one that many conservatives in the Legislature say is long overdue for another look.

Courts have interpreted the provision to mean schools must receive enough money to carry out their duties and provide students with a quality education; and the money must be distributed equitably so that, for example, children in poor, high-minority districts do not receive an inferior education compared with students in wealthier suburban districts.

"I’d like to go back maybe, if I could, to 1966 and see if the folks that voted thought that ‘suitable’ meant adequate and equal, which they might, and that the word ‘equal’ means that the district I represent can no longer pay their utility bills from their own property taxes, that it meant we could no longer have protest petitions," House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said last month during a meeting of the Legislature's top leadership.

Ryckman was referring to a long line of court cases, in Kansas and in other states, that say funding for public schools must be both adequate and equitable.

And more specifically, he was referring to a portion of the latest decision that struck down a provision of the new school funding formula that lawmakers passed this year, one that lets districts use "capital outlay" funds — which are typically used for big-ticket purchases like new equipment, furniture or heating and air-conditioning repairs — to pay utility bills as well because that put larger, wealthier districts like Olathe at a financial advantage over smaller, poorer districts.

Ryckman has not said whether he wants the committee to consider constitutional amendments, but during the meeting of the Legislative Coordinating Council when he first proposed it, he wouldn't rule out that possibility.

"I wouldn’t want to limit the committee, but that was not to be the intent," Ryckman said. "The words ‘suitable provision’ have been argued and ping-ponged back and forth for quite some time, regardless of who’s in charge of the Legislature, regardless of who the governor is. And it’s time to look at it, helping the courts and helping the Legislature decide what that word means."

But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he has grave concerns that the committee intends to do just that.

"We have debated the issue of suitability over the years, and those bills haven’t gone anywhere," Hensley said during that meeting. "They have never had a majority in either house of the Legislature. And again, it would be my concern that we would be exploring — when it says ‘options to reduce or eliminate the perpetual cycle of conflict over school finance,’ it would be my concern that we would be looking at conceivably amending the Kansas Constitution, or doing away with Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution."

Some experts argue, however, that there is credible reason to agree that the "suitable finance" language was not the central issue when Kansas voters adopted the 1966 amendment.

Dale Dennis, the deputy education commissioner who began his career in 1967, the year after that amendment passed, said it was more about changing the governance of K-12 education, after Kansas had just gone through a tumultuous process of consolidating schools into the modern "unified school district" system.

"For example, at that time we had county superintendents in each county," Dennis recalled in an interview this week. "And they’d gone through consolidation, and really at that point in time, the county superintendents at that time didn’t have much to do. So they went from an elected superintendent to an elected state board."

The language about making "suitable provision" for financing schools appears to be generic language that was borrowed from other state constitutions, and Dennis said it wasn't a major part of the discussion in 1966.

"I don’t recall that being the primary focus at that time," he said. "The part that was adopted on suitable financing, I don’t recall that it was that big in the election process."

Whether or not the special committee gets around to reviewing Article 6 remains to be seen.

Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, who has been named to chair the joint committee, said the panel will have other things to consider first.

"The charge to this committee was three-fold: to review and analyze the Gannon decision; to identify the responses available to the Legislature; and finally to explore options to reduce or eliminate the ongoing conflict over school finance," Finch said during a phone interview.

"So if we’re looking at options to reduce or eliminate the ongoing cycle, that would be the category under which one could look at all sorts of options," he said. "That would be something we would look at later in the process, but the first charge, or the first two charges, are going to be to review and analyze and look at the responses available, and the consequences of each of those."

The committee is scheduled to meet for three days before the start of the 2018 session. The first meeting on Dec. 4, Finch said, will focus on reviewing and analyzing the Gannon decision. The second meeting, on Dec. 18, will focus on options for responding to the decision, including how much additional money the state may consider adding to the formula.

The final meeting, on Dec. 19, will focus on ways to avoid future litigation, and that's the meeting in which people may offer proposed constitutional amendments.

Finch said he is not aware of anyone discussing any specific amendments currently. But he wouldn't rule out the possibility of taking another look at the language in Article 6.

"My daughter is 17, and in the time she’s been in the public school system in Kansas there has been two threats of school closures, and I really think we need to do something to make sure that that does not happen again in the future," he said. "I don’t know what that is yet. I think that’s what the legislative process is all about. But I think that it’s not at all unreasonable for the Legislature to come together and take a look at how do we do something different so we’re not repeating this cycle every eight to 10 years."

Comments

Brett McCabe 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Hasn't this issue been under discussion for years? And you haven't figured it out yet? The problem might not be the language of the constitution, it might just lie somewhere else.

Bob Summers 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Exactly. The issue is the people the money is being given to.

P Allen Macfarlane 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Wrong again. The issue is making sure that every child in every district has the available to them the same potential for success in school.

Sam Crow 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Your typically liberal gibberish is easy to write, but very difficult to implement.

Show us a way to quantify “potential for success” into ways that are measurable, which the metrics can then be compared.

You can’t put the words “potential for success “into a formula on a spreadsheet to compare 286 very disparate school districts in the state.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Why do conservatives insist on a definitive metric to measure things that are immeasurable like a person's potential in life? "Minds are like Parachutes: they work best when open." Stop insisting that others follow your closed mindedness. We have to give All children the Same chance at a better life. They may not all succeed but giving some a better chance than others is not fair and it is not what this country was founded on. Odd that Conservatives want definite measurement on things like Student success but then say that their religious Ideology just needs "Faith" to succeed! Deny, Distract, Attack. Karl Rove and Dick Cheney would be proud of you!

Sam Crow 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Conservatives live in a world of reality.

Liberals live in a world of make believe, full of smiles and bubbles and cute puppies. And if its not there for the young ones, they demand space places to avoid reality.

If only public budgets could be based on smiles and cute sayings.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 2 weeks, 4 days ago

The Tax cuts proposed by Congress have been scored by the CBO and show a huge increase in the Deficit and more than 1/2 of all benefits going to the top 1%. It is Not the Largest Tax cut in History. That really is "Fake News". But the Republicans say "Trust me" and disregard the metrics because they do not go with their narrative. Republicans want proof of what can't be proven on the things they are against and refuse to acknowledge sound data and metrics of the things they want to pass. I call that Hypocrisy of the Highest order! There is your Reality!

Thomas Bryce Jr. 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Currently, approximately 8 out of 10 Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Approximately 2 out of 3 Americans Disapprove of the Job Trump is doing also. Do the math. People who think like you are definitely a Minority.

Bob Summers 2 weeks, 5 days ago

@ Crow,

Liberals like to profoundly state the obvious, but, do not have a clue how to achieve it. Other than to blame others for their failings and demand more of their money to cover their ineptitude to achieve the obvious, they are just squeaky wheels.

Lynn Grant 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Perhaps in the majority of the Legislature not doing its job?

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Whatever the cause, I am sick and tired of the school district we are in bleeding us dry in extra taxes and bond issues. We live on a fixed income, and the only children we have all have four legs. Something being done about this is long overdue. If it takes a change in the constitution, so be it.

P Allen Macfarlane 2 weeks, 6 days ago

And I'm sure someone in the older generation complained about paying taxes when you were in school. I'm afraid it is the cost of making sure our children are adequately prepared to be the citizens we would like them to be: happy and productive. I'm in the same boat you are in as far as not having children at home, but to me it's a matter of paying it forward.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Who paid for your school? Ddi you attend private school? Did you attend a state university? It's called paying it forward. Are you sorry you lived long enough to be the elders? Grow up. It's time to accept your responsibilities to a community that educated you and gave you opportunities. My parents paid high taxes that helped build the roads on which we drive and the brand new high school I attended in the late 60's. They would be shamed that people in my generation don't want to provide the same.

Gary Stussie 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Just received House Tax Appraisal 7.5% increase in one year (RIGHT)! Property tax will inevitable increase significantly. Couple more years of this tax & spend mania and this won't be "my community" ... as we will be forced to move. Seems to me that when you retire on a fixed income, your property taxes ought to be frozen at the level they were when you start drawing social security.

Josh Berg 2 weeks, 3 days ago

So your parents paid high taxes to build the high school? Then you paid high taxes to repair the high school and now I am paying high taxes to update the high school with stuff they do not need? Sounds like you have been played for over 5 decades. If you are the result of the high school then I suggest we no longer give any money to it.

Sam Crow 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Dottie wants you to pay it forward.

But there is something important she isn’t telling you.

She is very proud of her mostly taxpayer financed KPERS retirement, which is about $30,000 a year.

But she, like all KPERS retirees, pay ZERO state taxes on that income, saving her about $1,500 a year.

Yet, she wants you to pay your 5.2% state income tax on any pension you may have, and calls it paying it forward. She calls it a responsibility. How about accepting your own responsibilities Dottie ?

How typically hypocritical is that ??

Josh Berg 2 weeks, 4 days ago

She also wants more benefits for the poor so her niece and boyfriend can raise their baby that they should have never had

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Okay, that is about as stupid as it gets. I'm sick of you lying conservatives on this site. I'm so happy you do not have any children and that you have done everything perfectly in your life. It must be tiring to be so perfect. Why are you even on this forum. You should be on your yacht or at Mar-a-Lago.

And, Sam. I've paid more state taxes than you have probably earned in your life. I've worked in this state and paid taxes for over 50 years. Why don't you try getting a job that has benefits if you are so poor. Why? Because you don't want to belong to a union to negotiate it. You think that your boss will just fall all over you just to be in your presence? Or are you independently wealthy? You are probably living your mom's basement or mooching off you wife.

Sam Crow 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Dottie, Ashley Judd would be very proud of you for being such a naaasssty woommaan.

But it doesn’t change the fact you want everybody but you to pay state income taxes, to fund your interests.

When challenged with facts, you retreat into your make believe world, and imagine and assign attributes to other people, in an effort to reconcile your beliefs.

You have spent your life suckling at the taxpayers teat, and continue to do so in retirement. You chose the low risk, low reward route in life. Now you are jealous of those of us that pursued a more lucrative vision.

I worked my entire life to put myself in a position that people like you are envious of people like me. Thanks for confirming I made the right decisions all along.

Greg Cooper 2 weeks, 2 days ago

You know, Sam, if I chose to be envious of anyone, it would certainly not be you. I don't give a damn about your income or anything about you simply because, after having read your comments over the years, I know I will be a happier, more secure person in my old age than you will ever be. Your carping about how well off you are is nothing if you are so bitter about the thoughts and wishes of others not like you. Your comment about Dorothy, and, by extension, anyone else who worked in the public sector, is wide of the mark by miles, and based on nothing that resembles reality. I promise you, envious of you is neither my or Dorothy's problem.

Josh Berg 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Better than living in your basement mooching off of everyone else

Steve King 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Can't win? Change the rules of the game. Typical Right wing GOP playbook. They destroyed the State's finances. Put us in a Billion dollar hole. Now they look to take that failed plan Nationally. Sad.

Calvin Anders 2 weeks, 5 days ago

This is more noise from the Legislature. They don't really plan to do anything of substance. They want to continue to delay action because right now they have everything they want. The Court has observed that funding is inadequate, but failed to do anything to enforce their ruling. That is a win for the far right nuts who run the Legislature right now. Their plan of action is to continue to offer "solutions" that don't increase funding. If the Court will not force their hand, legislators will happily continue starving schools of funding. The longer they can stretch out this game, the more they will pay themselves on the backs.

Josh Berg 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Over 50% of the budget goes to the schools. If I was in charge of any department in the State government and they told me I would get over half of the total budget I would be ecstatic. Also, no other department submits a budget and then sues the State when that budget is not approved.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Over 50% of the federal budget goes to the Military. Over 50% of State Budgets go to Education. Kansas is not alone. This is pretty much the scenario playing out across America. The Problem is that Republican States don't want to pay for education for the public any longer. Education is a resource that belongs to all of us equally. The rich can and will send their kids to private schools. That is their right. The General public deserves to have adequately funded high quality education for their kids. Shall we go back to the time when only the wealthy and their families were educated? That did not work out for everyone so well and that is why that system changed. Going back to that mindset would be just that: Going backwards. That is why Liberals are called Progressives and Republicans are called Regressives. Republicans want to "Take America Back" to the Dark ages.

Josh Berg 2 weeks, 3 days ago

How about California? They have the most liberal governor and legislature and yet their education is bankrupting the State too. Oh right that does not fit your narrative

Thomas Bryce Jr. 2 weeks, 3 days ago

1 state does not really make an argument. California is having multiple problems not just in funding education. California is the most populous state in the nation with over 12 percent of the total population of the US. Hard to compare to Kansas which is ranked 35th on the same list with 0.9% of the population. Education is not bankrupting Kansas. The legislature refuses to pay the amount set down by it's own Legislative review.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Lowering taxes to the point that they could not pay the amount set down by their own Legislative review is a self inflicted wound. A wound that every citizen in Kansas has to deal with now.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Education should get more than half the budget. It is the one, most important thing the state does. Why are you so against education? Was a teacher mean to you once? Do you hate to read? Do you like the uneducated, like your lord and master?

Josh Berg 2 weeks, 3 days ago

I have already stated I am okay with the amount that the State budgets for education but only if the schools stop trying to get more. Where is the line? Do we take it to over 60%? 70%? How many checks have you voluntarily written to help fund education? How about you give up your pension? Oh wait, I forgot, you only like to fund things when the money comes from everyone but you.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Are you really that disgusting? How much did you pay in income tax last year. My pension isn't my only income, thankfully, or I would have to type this from the library, or the homeless shelter. How much do you think people get from KPERS?

School funding hasn't even kept up with inflation, just like the working class wages haven't. Any economists will tell you that. I'm sorry you had to start paying state income taxes again. You had a nice holiday. How many jobs did you create? Did you expand your business. If you really don't want to pay taxes, why don't you take your money and go buy an island. Or move to Wyoming. I hear they don't have high taxes.

Gary Stussie 2 weeks, 1 day ago

What I find problematic is the growing tendency to use lawyers and judges to thwart the efforts of elected officials. We elect these folks (at all levels) to accomplish things, then any special interest group can bring things to a halt by filing a lawsuit. The issue creeps its way through the courts in hopes of finding a judge which will legislate from the bench! How much $$$ was spent on these lawyers and by the state for defense.

Calvin Anders 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Josh, this "Where is the line" nonsense is really quite silly and transparent. Kansas had a funding model and a per pupil funding level that everyone was more or less comfortable with before Brownie and the jackals in the Legislature decided they needed to slash funding to help pay for a huge tax cut for the wealthy and big business interests. The Legislature has a figure for per pupil funding levels that was not contested before, so that would probably be a good place to start. This fictional narrative from the right that tries to convince everyone that the Legislature has no idea what would be considered adequate is a ridiculous fiction. They know what will work, they just want to avoid doing it. And the timid Court isn't willing enforce their ruling, so the Legislature will just drag their feet and make dumb, unsupportable excuses like your's Josh.

Sam Crow 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Calvin lawsuits about education funding in Kansas are not new.

In 1972, there was Caldwell v. Kansas regarding the funding system.

In 1991, Mock v. Kansas was filed to contest the formula devised to settle Caldwell.

Robinson v. Kansas was filed in 2002 was filed claiming the formula discriminated against minorities.

Montoy v, Kansas was filed in 2003 saying the funding system violated the state constitution.

Montoy v. Kansas (2) was filed in 2005 challenging the formula. It was known as Montoy II.

Montoy v. Kansas (3) was filed in 2005, saying the settlement in Montoy II was inadequate. It was about minorities in large districts. Sebelius was governor during the Montoy cases, and the moderates controlled the legislature.

The current Gannon v. Kansas was filed in early 2010, in response to Gov. Parkinson cutting the education funds due to the recession. . Scott Rothschild reported in the LJW on June 21, 2010 that Parkinson opposed the suit saying "we cannot sue our way out" of our problems. Brownback had not even been elected yet.

So, sorry, funding was something everyone was not “more or less comfortable with before Brownie and the jackals”.

Carol Bowen 2 weeks, 2 days ago

The legislature often considers changing the constitution rather than following the constitution.

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