Posts tagged with School Finance

Lawmaker’s misstatements on education caught on video

A northeast Kansas legislator was recorded on camera over the weekend telling constituents that Kansas has the fourth worst educational system in the country, based on student test scores, while spending more than any other state on public schools - claims that are directly contradicted by official records.

In a video posted Saturday on YouTube, Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, is shown explaining why he believes that spending on public education is not synonymous with quality of education.

"If it was, Kansas would not be fourth in the nation from the bottom," Dove said. "And we spend more money. The states that spend less dollars are at the top. And Kansas is pretty near the bottom."

Asked by audience members to explain where he got that information, Dove said: "Kansas Department of Education stats tell us that, as far as the SAT scores, ACT scores."

Dove made similar claims on the floor of the Kansas House of Representatives during the final days of the legislative session in a speech that drew loud heckling from other members.

According to results of the 2013 SAT exams, Kansas ranked 10th in the nation for average combined reading, math and writing scores. On last year's ACT exam, Kansas ranked 20th for its average composite score.

Meanwhile, the most recent Census Bureau data show Kansas ranked 29th in the nation in 2011 for total spending on K-12 public education, at $9,498 per student, well below the national average of $10,560.

The states that ranked the highest on the SAT exam, Illinois and North Dakota, as well as the states ranking highest on the ACT exam, Massachusetts and Connecticut, all reported higher per-student spending than Kansas, according to the Census Bureau.

The video was recorded by Chris Reeves, an Overland Park resident who posted it to the political website The Daily Kos under the username tmservo433.

In a telephone interview, Reeves said the remarks were made Saturday at a public meeting in De Soto at which both Dove and State Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, made remarks. He said Dove's remarks came in response to a question about why the Legislature attached major policy changes in an appropriations bill that was meant to address funding inequities between rich and poor districts, and what problems in Kansas schools were lawmakers trying to address with those changes.

Dove was also the sponsor of a bill earlier in the session that would have repealed the Common Core standards in reading and math, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards that were recently adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education.

In an taped interview with the Journal-World, Dove admitted he had not actually read the standards, but merely objected to the way they were developed and adopted. In a subsequent interview with the Wichita Eagle, he denied having made such a statement.

Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, tried to convince a DeSoto audience Saturday that Kansas has the fourth-lowest test scores in the country, a statement directly contradicted by reports of those test results.

Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, tried to convince a DeSoto audience Saturday that Kansas has the fourth-lowest test scores in the country, a statement directly contradicted by reports of those test results. by Peter Hancock

Reply 7 comments from Dreber Lynn Grant Richard Heckler Amy Varoli Elliott Thomas Bryce Jr.

KNEA uses ‘thunderclap’ to spread word on education bill

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, there was an unusual spike in the Twitter hashtag #ksleg, which reporters, lobbyists and other political junkies use to highlight items about the Kansas Legislature.

That spike, which shows up in the graphic below, was no accident. It was the result of a new kind of social media strategy known as a "thunderclap" that was organized by the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

But it remains to be seen whether the thunderclap campaign achieved its stated goal, which was to bring pressure on Gov. Sam Brownback to veto a provision of the recently passed school finance bill that repeals teacher tenure rights.

The idea was to get as many people as possible to post messages on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtags #ksleg and #Brownback.

Based on data from — an analytic tool that can be used to track the use of specific hashtags and key words on Twitter — there was an obvious spike in the use of #ksleg right at 6 p.m. For the period that covers 30 minutes on either side of that time, #ksleg was tweeted or retweeted 108 times to more than 185,000 followers. KNEA's goal had been to get 100 mentions reaching 75,000 followers.

It's probably doubtful that Brownback will weigh that in as he decides whether to sign or veto the bill. He has already stated publicly that he likes the bill, although he has been noticeably silent on the question of the additional policy amendments that were added to it, including the teacher tenure provision.

Even thornier is the question of whether Brownback wants to test the limits of his constitutional authority by using a line-item veto of a policy measure that is buried inside an appropriations bill. A plain reading of the constitutional language would suggest the framers probably never envisioned they were giving the governor that kind of discretion.

"If any bill presented to the governor contains several items of appropriation of money, one or more of such items may be disapproved by the governor while the other portion of the bill is approved by the governor."

Still, the broader objective of KNEA's "thunderclap" campaign probably had less to do with influencing Gov. Brownback, and more to do with raising public awareness of the issue and motivating voters in this year's elections.

To know whether or not that was successful, we'll all have to wait until November.

According to, use of the hashtag #ksleg spiked at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the designated time of the Kansas National Education Association's "thunderclap" social media campaign.

According to, use of the hashtag #ksleg spiked at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the designated time of the Kansas National Education Association's "thunderclap" social media campaign. by Peter Hancock

A word cloud graphic from shows people using the hashtag #ksleg were also using the words "gov," "veto," "teachers" "policy" and "bill."

A word cloud graphic from shows people using the hashtag #ksleg were also using the words "gov," "veto," "teachers" "policy" and "bill." by Peter Hancock


School finance: How solving one constitutional problem can create many more

As the Kansas Legislature tries to fix one set of constitutional problems with education funding, it'll be interesting to see whether they create a whole host of new ones, or at least open up a can of constitutional worms, simply in the way they're going about it.

The Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled that lawmakers have violated their duty under Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution by failing to provide "equitable" funding in two areas of public school finance. But in their attempt to solve that problem, lawmakers may be creating new problems stemming from Article 2 of the Constitution dealing with legislative powers: the ban on multiple subjects in a single bill and the limits of the governor's line-item veto authority.

Article 2, Sec. 16 provides that, “No bill shall contain more than one subject, except appropriation bills and bills for revision or codification of statutes.” (Emphasis added.) The problem is that the school finance bills now wending through the House and Senate do both – appropriate money and revise existing statutes.

Attorneys in the Revisor of Statutes office, the Legislature's official legal counsel, are saying that's okay, as long as the appropriations and the statutory changes all relate to the same topic, in this case “education.”

But here, lawmakers may be pushing the limits on that. On the Senate side, at least, the policy changes relate directly to the school finance formula itself - tweaking (or eliminating) different "weightings" that affect how different types of students are counted.

But on the House side, often the more ambitious and less disciplined chamber - GOP leaders are going after broader policy changes, such as teacher licensing requirements and setting up a new, independent "commission" outside the authority of the State Board of Education to recommend ways schools can become more efficient. Earlier version of the House bill included a massive expansion of charter schools and authorization for incentive-based bonuses that principals, at their sole discretion, could dole out to favored teachers.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that those measures pass the one-subject-per-bill test, they would still raise another question: How much authority, if any, does the governor have to “line-item veto” any of those measures - or any individual paragraphs within them - without rejecting the overall bill in its entirety?

Article 2, Sec. 14(b) states: “If any bill presented to the governor contains several items of appropriation of money, one or more of such items may be disapproved by the governor while the other portion of the bill is approved by the governor.”

Two key phrases here are “several,” and “such items?”

The standard rule in journalism is that “several” means at least seven or more, but that's just journalism. In the Legislature, "several" could easily mean anything more than one. And each of the bills now pending in the Legislature contain exactly two: one for capital outlay funding; and one for local option budgets.

But these bills contain many “items” besides appropriations. So where the Constitution says the governor can veto one or more “such items,” does that refer only to items of appropriation, or any "items" in the bill, whether they appropriate money or not?

A plain reading would seem to suggest the former. But this is where previous Legislatures have already made a mess of things, and thereby established precedents that may not be to anyone's liking. They're called “provisos,” and here's how they work:

“There is hereby appropriated for the (fill in agency's name here) the sum of $1 million, provided that no such money shall be spent unless or until said agency adopts a particular policy that a tiny cabal of low-level legislators would like, but the other chamber would never accept unless we use this amateur tactic to hold the entire budget process hostage until we get what we want, at least for one year.”

Kansas lawmakers have made increasing use of the proviso over the last 10-15 years by using the entire state budget as a bargaining chip to get a policy change in one or more area of government. And as they have done so, governors have claimed a corresponding expansion of their line-item veto authority. That is, they have line-item vetoed the proviso language without vetoing the money attached to it.

Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, did that on more than one occasion, much to the consternation of Republicans who thought she was stretching her constitutional authority. But the pending school finance bills have the potential to elevate this power game to a whole new level.

Take, for example, the language calling for a new “efficiency” commission: If that were presented to the governor as a stand-alone bill, he could either sign it or veto it in its entirety. He could not strike out individual paragraphs – like the ones giving minority party leaders appointments to the commission – while leaving the rest of the bill allowing Republican leaders to make appointments in tact.

But could he do that to language inside a mega-bill that also contains appropriations? Officials in the Revisor of Statute's office wouldn't opine on that question Monday. And as for the governor's office? “We are not commenting on pending legislation,” Brownback's press secretary Sara Belfry said via email. “The Governor will carefully review and consider all aspects of this bill once passed by both legislative houses.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers can take solace in one historical fact. It is rare for courts to strike down any legislative act for violating the one-topic-per-bill rule, and rarer still to do so strike down an illegal line-item veto. Because before any court could do so, some "aggrieved party" would have to challenge it in court. And in this case, someone who's aggrieved by one aspect of the bill likely has an interest on the other side, and therefore doesn't want to risk seeing the entire act overturned on a technicality.

That is the art of compromise.

Reply 2 comments from Mary Nall Devin Wilson

Court compliance deadline comes earlier for schools than for Legislature

The Kansas Supreme Court has given the Legislature until July 1 to correct two problems in the state's school funding system, but school districts themselves are facing an earlier deadline, and it's one that Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll says he'd rather not even think about.

By May 16, under Kansas law, school districts have to notify any teachers whose contracts they do not intend to renew for next year. And if Kansas lawmakers don't fix the equity problems in the Local Option Budget formula, a lot of teachers could be getting those notices.

According to the Supreme Court's ruling last week, if lawmakers haven't fixed the problem by July 1, the district court "should enjoin operation of the local option budget funding mechanism ... or enter such other orders as it deems appropriate."

Translation: If lawmakers fail to fix the problem, the entire LOB funding mechanism gets shut down. Districts will no longer have them. In the Lawrence school district, that would mean a loss of nearly $24 million. Statewide, it's a little over $1 billion, according to Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis.

The constitutional problem is that lawmakers haven't been fully funding the "equalization formula" for LOBs — additional aid the state kicks in for lower-wealth districts so that rich and poor districts can levy roughly the same property tax rates to raise similar amounts for their LOBs. Because of the under-funding of that formula, poorer school districts have either had to levy higher taxes or cut their budgets. Either way, the court said, students and taxpayers in those districts are being treated unfairly.

It would cost the state an additional $104 million to fully fund that formula, but the court allowed for the possibility that lawmakers could find some other way to solve the equity problem. If the Legislature does anything less than restore full funding, the issue goes back to the district court for review to determine whether the new funding amount is still unconstitutional.

The concern for school districts is that when May 16 rolls around, they still may not know whether lawmakers have fixed the problem. And at that point, Doll and his fellow superintendents around the state may face some difficult decisions, like how many pink slips to hand out and who should get them.

So, here are the dates to keep in mind as the deadlines approach:

Friday, April 4: The scheduled last day of the regular session. After that, lawmakers typically take a break for about three and a half weeks before returning for the "veto session." In recent years, though, most big budget issues have remained unresolved at this point in the session.

Tuesday, April 15: The day lawmakers get the new, official revenue estimates for the upcoming fiscal year. By law, whatever budget they pass has to balance with these revenue figures. And because of tax cuts that lawmakers approved in 2012, experts have projected that next year's revenues could fall as much as 6 percent.

Tuesday-Wednesday, April 29-30: Approximate date for the start of the wrap-up session. The exact date hasn't been set yet. Traditionally, the wrap-up is only supposed to last three or four days, but in recent years, it's dragged on for considerably longer. The main task during the wrap-up is to hammer out a final budget that balances with the new revenue estimates. This is when lawmakers will have to decide whether, or to what extent, they want to comply with the Supreme Court ruling.

Friday, May 16: Deadline for school districts to notify teachers of nonrenewal of their contracts.

Tuesday, July 1: Deadline set by the Supreme Court for lawmakers to cure the inequities found in the current school funding mechanism.


Court ruling may be political success, but educational failure

The Kansas Supreme Court accomplished one remarkable thing with its school finance ruling last week. It threaded the needle so carefully that nearly everyone — at least in the political arena — walked away feeling like they'd won a little something.

That's not bad, considering that before the decision nearly every news outlet, from the Winfield Courier to the New York Times, was predicting the decision could lead to a constitutional showdown with the Kansas Legislature.

Instead, Republicans walked away feeling validated that the court had paid due deference to the Legislature's role in setting budgets. And Democrats walked away armed with new ammunition to claim Republicans have underfunded schools, especially poorer schools.

Politically, it was a master stroke that avoided a potentially bitter confrontation that could have permanently damaged the court itself. But it may have come at a huge cost to schools. Because by backing away from the “actual cost” model of determining adequate funding, and instead adopting the so-called “Rose” factors, the court lowered the bar for what can be deemed a constitutional level of funding in Kansas.

The Rose factors lay out a set of educational outcomes that the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled was sufficient for that state in 1989. They specifically reference outcomes in reading and writing, social studies and government, health, the arts and vocational training. They suggest that students coming out of Kentucky public schools should have sufficient knowledge, skills and training in those areas "to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization," and to "compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states."

Here are three things to remember about the Rose standards:

First, they were established 25 years ago, before advent of the Internet, and before the subsequent shift in the United States to a knowledge-based economy.

Second is the noticeable absence of two key words from those standards: “science” and “mathematics.” They appear nowhere in the seven-point Rose test. Nor, for that matter, do the words “technology” or “computer literacy.”

And third, they mention nothing of the fact that students in the 21st century are expected to compete in a global marketplace, not just against those in "surrounding states."

So by adopting the Rose standards as the constitutional touchstone for school finance in Kansas, the Supreme Court has made Missouri and Oklahoma the standards of acceptability for educational outcomes, even though students' primary competitors today are more likely to be found in places such as China, India and the European Union.

By harkening back to Kentucky at the end of the industrial age to set 21st century educational standards for Kansas, the Court ignored one fact. We already have an institution in Kansas endowed with constitutional power to set such standards. It's called the Kansas State Board of Education, a democratically elected body that has already established curriculum and accreditation standards, including science and math, that far exceed those envisioned by the Rose court.

The question now is to what extent the Kansas Supreme Court has undercut the state board by giving the Legislature a free pass to fund Kansas schools at a lower standard.

Reply 4 comments from James Howlette Deb Geraghty Mark Rainey Dave Trabert

Poll shows most Kansans want court to order more school funding; Davis has slight lead over Brownback; Roberts faces challenge

A new poll out today shows that by a wide margin, most Kansans believe public schools are underfunded and want the Kansas Supreme Court to step in by ordering more funding.

The survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm based in North Carolina, found 59 percent of those responding believe that public schools in Kansas are not adequately funded, and an equal number think the Kansas Supreme Court should rule that funding for public schools needs to be increased.

The court is currently considering an appeal of the case Gannon vs. Kansas in which a trial court ruled in January 2013 that the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty to make "suitable provision" for financing education. The trial court ordered the Legislature to add more than half a billion dollars a year to the K-12 education budget. A decision by the Supreme Court is expected at any time.

The survey of 693 Kansas voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent. It included telephone interviews as well as internet responses to capture voters who do not have land-line telephones.

Other findings of the PPP Kansas poll included:

• Democrat Paul Davis of Lawrence holds a slim lead over Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, 42-40.

• While Brownback suffers from a 51-percent disapproval job rating, 59 percent of those surveyed don't know enough about Davis to have an opinion of him one way or another.

• Brownback's tax policies are unpopular among voters, with only 26 percent saying they have been successful and 47 percent saying they have not.

• Former Kansas governor and current Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius now has a 55 percent disapproval rating. While she was governor from 2003 to 2009, polls routinely showed her job approval rating in the upper 50s or low to mid 60s range. She is occasionally talked about as a potential Democratic challenger to GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, but has never made any public indication that she's thinking about a Senate bid.

• Roberts may have a challenge on his hands for re-election. Although he leads his GOP challenger Milton Wolf, 42-23 percent, PPP says that appears to be a function of name recognition, since only 24 percent of GOP primary voters are familiar with Wolf. Roberts' own job approval rating is split: 29 percent approve; 38 disapprove; 32 percent are not sure. That's a 12-point drop in his approval rating from a year ago.

Reply 2 comments from Paul R.  Getto Peter Hancock Merriannie Ksfbcoach

In pre-State of the State remarks, Brownback sought common ground with school superintendents

TOPEKA - A few hours before his State of the State address Wednesday, Gov. Sam Brownback addressed a gathering of school superintendents in an effort to find some kind of common ground, or at least mutual respect.

At the same time, though, he acknowledged that he has a different view than most of the education community of what has happened to school funding in the three years he's been in office.

"I've been saying every year that I've been in office, we've put more money in K-12. And we have," Brownback told the Council of Superintendents. "Your experience has been, 'I've gotten less money,' which is true."

The main difference, he said, concerns how people count money put into KPERS - the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, which funds pensions for state, municipal and school district employees.

Basically, he said, the Legislature and his administration were putting more money into KPERS at the same time the federal government was phasing out the stimulus money it had been providing states to cushion them from the impact of the Great Recession.

"And you're saying – and I'm quoting one of you – 'Well, that doesn't put diesel into the bus tank'," Brownback said. "I understand."

But he offered no apologies for that, saying it was important to shore up KPERS because of its massive unfunded liability.

"Ultimately, where state and local governments have really gotten hurt is they don't take care of their pension systems. This is Detroit's problem," he said, referring to the Motor City, which recently declared bankruptcy. "You've gotta fund your pensions."

He also offered no apologies for the fact that, as the federal government phased out the federal relief it had been getting from the federal government, he and the Legislature chose not to replace that money with state revenues, which had begun to recover by that point, and instead to pass a massive tax cut.

"Now, other places went different ways on this formula," he told the superintendents. "I'm saying that basically, on the long term, we've got to get growth happening in Kansas again. And if we're based on growth, we can fund things. If we're based on raising taxes, or if we're based on the same declining overall strength, we're going to have great trouble doing this over a long period of time, but your transition is hard."

Before the recession began in 2008, base state aid per pupil was $4,400. By the time Brownback took office, it had fallen to $3,937. In the first full year of the Brownback administration, it was lowered $3,780. It is currently set at $3,838.

But Brownback did offer an olive branch, of sorts, saying there needs to be more communication between the K-12 education community, and less litigation.

"My plea with you is, honestly, to have a lot more communication, and that it be a lot more specific," he said. "Maybe start out pretty general, maybe getting to know each other's names. … We just have not had enough communications in the system, I think, in particular between K-12 and the Legislature."

The meeting was attended by what appeared to be most of the state's 286 superintendents. They listened politely, and quietly, as Brownback spoke for about 20 minutes. During a brief question-and-answer session that followed, a few thanked the governor for his career and technical education initiative, but none tried to engage him directly on the school finance issue.

That question is now pending before the Kansas Supreme Court in a lawsuit that seeks to restore all of the money cut since the start of the recession — more than $500 million a year. If that should happen, the question then will become whether the Republican-dominated Legislature will comply with the order, or defy the Supreme Court.


Top three ways Supreme Court could avoid school finance showdown

One week out from the start of the legislative session, and everyone is still waiting with bated breath for the Kansas Supreme Court to rule in the school finance case. Which leaves pundits and gadflies little else to do for the time being than to sit around and speculate about what will happen, and then what will happen next.

The conventional wisdom currently takes two forms: a slam-dunk win for the plaintiffs, with an order to increase funding by hundreds of millions of dollars, leading to a constitutional showdown between the court and the Legislature; or a slam-dunk win for the state, overturning the court's previous ruling in Montoy vs. Kansas (2005), and holding that the court has no authority to question the political judgment of the Legislature regarding appropriations.

The latter, of course, seems to be little more than a pipe dream even among conservatives who take that view. Judging by conservative blogs, and the very nature of the latest Kansas Policy Institute public opinion poll, even they are bracing themselves for an adverse decision, and are girding themselves for the constitutional battle to follow.

But let me suggest there are at least three ways the court could conceivably rule that would avoid the whole showdown between the legislative and judicial branches and thereby leave both sides a little disappointed. First, however, a little review about how we got here:

In Montoy, the Court said that for funding to be constitutional, the Legislature must consider two factors: the actual cost of providing an education, including reasonable administrative costs; and the equity with which those funds are distributed. Adequacy and equity.

The equity piece applies not just to the base funding the state gives to school districts, but also to other parts of school budgets that the Legislature has authorized, namely Local Option Budgets, or LOBs, and capital outlay budgets.

Both of those are somewhat discretionary funds, and it's up to each local school board to decide how much it needs. But in property-rich districts like those in Johnson County, it takes a much smaller mill levy to raise any given amount of money than it does in poorer districts. Thus, the Legislature provides "equalization aid" to subsidize those budgets for poorer districts, so that 1 mill of property tax in Galena, or even Kansas City, yields roughly the same amount of revenue as 1 mill in Olathe or Blue Valley .

In the current case, Gannon vs. Kansas, the plaintiffs argued -— and the trial court agreed — that since 2008-2009, the Legislature has walked away from both of those commitments, slashing base state aid without any regard for the actual costs of running schools, and failing to fully fund the equalization formulas. The LOB formula is now only partially funded, and the capital outlay formula has gone completely unfunded for years.

So how can the court untie this knot without bringing down the wrath of a vengeful governor and Legislature? (Think constitutional amendments; changing the way Supreme Court justices are selected; lowering the mandatory retirement age for justices to force a few of them out to pasture; messing with their pension plans ... etc.) Here are some possibilities:

Dismiss for lack of standing: This was an argument Solicitor General Steve McAllister raised during oral arguments. He said the plaintiffs made a huge procedural mistake by failing to put anything in the record about who the named plaintiffs, Luke Gannon et al., even are, let lone how they individually have been harmed by the alleged constitutional violation. At most, this would be a delay move by the court because it would just force the plaintiffs to refile the case, take a few depositions by those plaintiffs and go through the whole lengthy, and costly, process again, leading in all likelihood to the same result anyway. However, it does seem that if a majority of justices wanted to take that route, they would have done it already. It wouldn't take three months to write that opinion.

Uphold on equity; punt the rest: The equity issue is really the least defensible for the state. The equalization formulas still exist in statute, suggesting the Legislature still acknowledges they are necessary. It just hasn't funded them, and it really has provided no plausible rationale for that, other than saying it just doesn't want to. If the court acts only on that issue, it would be hard for others to argue that the justices are "legislating from the bench." The Legislature enacted those formulas; the court has previously upheld them as constitutional. According to the Kansas State Department of Education, fully funding the LOB equalization would cost $103.9 million next year. Capital outlay equalization would be in the range of $25 million. That's still a chunk of change, but less than the full package and a little more defensible politically. That would leave only the big-ticket item of base state aid unresolved, to wit:

Remand for a new cost study: In Montoy, the Court used two different cost studies that the Legislature itself commissioned to come up with a base funding level that lawmakers eventually adopted. That's what led to the statute that is still in place saying base state aid today should be $4,492 per pupil, instead of the $3,838 the state is actually funding.

At the Gannon trial during the summer of 2012, however, the plaintiffs relied on one expert witness to update those cost studies, and it was a witness who wasn't involved in either of the original reports. They also presented school officials from plaintiff districts who testified that costs have gone up and current funding was inadequate, but not by how much. The state, for its part, offered no alternative evidence to suggest that $3,838 is an adequate figure, other than the self-evident fact that schools seem to be getting by with it anyway, so what the heck.

One conceivable middle path out of that problem would be to demand new evidence. Remand the case — either back to the trial court, or to the Legislature itself — and tell both sides to put new, current cost estimates into the record and come up with a new figure that is supported by evidence.

That, in essence, is what the court really did in Montoy, a case that was heard by the Supreme Court, in one form or another, five times before it was finally dismissed in 2006 — and then a sixth time in 2010 when the court refused to reopen it.

Reply 1 comment from Devin Wilson

KPI admits to faulty poll question

Last week we ran a story about a poll on school finance issues conducted by the conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute, including reaction from education advocates who said the questions were loaded with false or misleading information that appeared aimed at eliciting a negative response.

At the time, KPI defended the wording of the question, as did the polling firm SurveyUSA. Since then, however, another education advocacy group, the Kansas Association of School Boards, has weighed in with more information, prompting KPI to concede that one question was misleading. In a phone call with the Journal-World Friday afternoon, KPI spokesman James Franko said the group would soon post a clarification on its own blog.

The text of the question read:

A state court has effectively ordered legislators to increase school funding by $443 million, which would also automatically increase local property taxes by another $154 million. Regardless of whether you believe schools are adequately funded, how would you respond to this statement: It is appropriate for the courts to have final say on decisions of how much taxpayer money is spent on education.”

Many observers objected to the idea that local property tax increases would be "automatic." It was based on the assumption that if the courts order an increase in base state aid, all districts would continue levying the same percentage for their "local option budgets," or LOB's. Ten districts, including Lawrence, are allowed to levy up to 31 percent of their base state aid; the others are capped at 30 percent.

But as KASB's Mark Tallman pointed out in a recent blog, the issue gets more complicated than that, and it speaks to the very heart of a couple of key issues in the lawsuit itself.

Base state aid is currently calculated at $3,838 per pupil, far lower than the $4,492 required by law. That's because when the Great Recession hit in 2008, state revenues plummeted and the Kansas Legislature cut funding. But the cuts were complicated.

In short, while the state is funding base budgets at $3,838 per pupil, it allowed districts to continue levying LOB's as if base aid had gone up, as scheduled at the time, to $4,433 per pupil. Therefore, if the Kansas Supreme Court orders the state to increase its base aid formula to $4,492, where it's supposed to be now, local districts wouldn't get that much more taxing authority. They've already gotten the increased taxing authority that would flow from most of that increase.

Tallman estimates there would only be $14 million worth of new local taxing authority statewide - not the $154 million that KPI plugged into its polling question.

For its part, KPI says before it put the poll in the field, it confirmed its estimates with Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis. And they forwarded an email from Dennis in which he confirms that he overlooked this quirk in LOB law when he spoke with KPI.

But there are still a few points worth noting:

First, local school boards must take affirmative action every year to decide where they want to set their LOB percentage. If base state aid goes up as a result of a court decision, some districts - possibly including Lawrence, which traditionally levies the maximum amount, whatever that may be - will continue to do so.

But others are likely to come under intense pressure from local voters to use the additional money for tax relief. That's likely to be the case in poorer districts that were forced to raise the LOB's in order to make up for the state funding cuts that began in 2008-2009. So it is false to say there is anything "automatic" about any LOB increases.

Second, one aspect of the lawsuit that often goes unreported concerns "equalization aid" for poorer districts. That's another thing the Legislature has cut, and it's something the plaintiffs are suing to get back. It amounts to a subsidy for lower-wealth districts that would otherwise have to impose huge property taxes to raise the same amount of money as a wealthier district of the same size. So if the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs on that issue, as the trial court did, those districts could continue levying the same LOB, and they would see an automatic tax cut.

Third, even with the polling question loaded with that false and inflammatory premise, nearly half of all respondents still preferred to let the courts, as opposed to the Legislature, have the final say in determining how much money is spent. The split was 50 percent to 47 percent against giving the courts that power, well within the 4.5-percent margin of error.

And finally, many observers — including this one — think it is dangerous to assume anything about how the Kansas Supreme Court will or won't rule. During oral arguments in October, it appeared there were a number of justices looking for some graceful way to wash their hands of this case entirely.

Reply 6 comments from Merriannie Stevenking Dreber Dave Trabert Greg Cooper Bluekansas

Brownback fires back at New York Times

Journal-World readers may have noticed a letter to the editor today by Gov. Sam Brownback, firing back at the New York Times for an editorial they ran Oct. 13 criticizing his record on education funding.

Brownback's office sent it to Kansas newspapers because, officials said, the Times declined to publish it. The Times did not respond to our inquiries about why they turned it down. Some Kansas papers gave it a pass as well, including the Kansas City Star, where editorial page editor Mirriam Pepper told me they found some of Brownback's statements factually questionable. Plus, she said, the Star just doesn't run letters addressed to other newspapers.

Nevertheless, since it is running in this newspaper, it warrants some explanation.

The Times editorial, "Shortchanging Kansas Schoolchildren," was published the Sunday following oral arguments at the Kansas Supreme Court in the pending school finance lawsuit. In it, the Times noted that school funding in Kansas had been cut by both Democratic and Republican administrations in the wake of the Great Recession. But as the economy recovered and state revenues bounced back to near-normal levels, it was Brownback who decided to enact tax cuts instead of restoring funding to public schools. The Times said:

In signing a five-year, $3.7 billion tax cut, Gov. Sam Brownback took the position that cutting taxes did more to create jobs than meeting per-student aid formulas. That dodgy rationale was argued in the State Supreme Court last week when a group of school districts and parents sued for their fair share of aid under the State Constitution’s “suitable provision” mandate. State spending on education has fallen an estimated 16.5 percent since 2008, including $500 million in cuts under the Brownback administration, resulting in teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.

In response, Brownback makes a number of assertions that, at the very least, should be clarified.

Among those is the claim that "state spending on K- 12 education has increased by more than $200 million" since he was elected in November 2010.

According to Sara Belfry, Brownback's press secretary, that number comes from comparing total state spending in Fiscal Year 2010 — the last full fiscal year under Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson — to the total state spending approved by the Legislature this year for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins next July.

The 2010 budget included $2.96 billion in state spending for the Department of Education. The 2015 budget calls for about $3.16 billion, an increase of about $200 million.

It should be noted, however, that about $29.5 million of that increase — nearly 15 percent of the increase Brownback claims credit for — occurred in FY 2011. That's the budget the Legislature approved in the spring of 2010, more than six months before Brownback was elected.

In addition, nearly $143 million, or 71 percent of the increase Brownback claims credit for is attributable to increases in the state's contributions to KPERS, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Although a legitimate part of the total cost of running a school system, or any other enterprise, it is not money that schools themselves have at their disposal to invest in classroom education.

A much different picture of education spending under Brownback's administration emerges simply by picking different starting and ending points.

For example, if we compare the budget that was in place when Brownback was sworn into office, Fiscal Year 2011, to the current fiscal year, total state spending has actually been cut by nearly $24 million. Or if we compare this year's budget to FY 2012, the first budget Brownback signed into law, state general fund spending on schools has decreased by nearly $100 million.

Brownback attributes that to "the result of federal stimulus funds that expired in Fiscal Year 2011."

True enough. But the assumption behind the federal stimulus package all along was that it was temporary aid to state governments that were reeling from revenue losses during the Great Recession. As the economy recovered and state revenues rebounded, Congress intended to pull back on stimulus spending, assuming that states would refill the hole with their own money.

In the case of stimulus spending for education, Brownback and the Republican-led Legislature made a conscious decision not to do that. Instead, they opted to leave the hole empty and enact tax cuts instead. It's an idea predicated on their firm belief that the tax cuts will spur economic growth, which they consider to be the state's highest priority right now.

People can agree or disagree with that economic theory. We'll all find out soon enough whether the plan works. In the meantime, Brownback's claim that his administration has increased state funding on education by $200 million is just one particular way of spinning the numbers.

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