The Kansas Supreme Court issued its fifth ruling in the Gannon case on October 2. This time the court was ruling on whether or not SB 19 (The Kansas School Equity and Enhancement Act), the school funding bill passed by the Legislature in the 2017 session, met constitutional muster. The Court was looking at two key things: 1) does the law provide adequate funding – is there enough money so all Kansas public school students can meet or exceed the Rose standards; and 2) is it equitable, which means do all school districts have reasonably equal access to similar educational opportunity with similar tax effort. In other words, we can’t have some districts with a 15 mil LOB and others with 100.
The Court ruled funding was not adequate. The $292 million increase over two years plus inflation was not enough to make sure every child meets the Rose Standards. The Court rejected the state’s “successful schools” model because the state couldn’t support the methodology they used. The state also failed to show that the total funding was keeping up with inflation from previous rulings. The Court discussed that changes made to some of the factors like at-risk could help, but said it wasn’t enough. In fact, there was an argument that we need to go beyond just keeping up with inflation, as that only preserves the status quo.
The Court found that the law was also inequitable and actually increased wealth-based disparities. The Court didn’t like the use of capital outlay funds for utilities, insurance and such because not all districts could raise money that way. For example, the superintendent in Elk Valley told me they only get about $11,000 per mil. In Blue Valley it’s closer to $500,000 per mil. The Court said the new rules on LOB were inequitable because not all districts would not be able to get to the highest LOB levels. The Court also said that giving two districts money for at-risk kids they didn’t have was not justified.
The Court didn’t set out a particular dollar amount required, but said the state had to have a constitutional law out in time for comments due on April 30, 2018. The Court encouraged the state to “show its work” (i.e. prove its case) this time. The interesting thing is that the Court said this needed to come to a conclusion. The Court said that funding had only been constitutional for a few years in the last twenty years and if they let it go on longer, they would be complicit in the problem. No more kicking the can down the road.
From the State Board standpoint, we put out our estimate last year. We said just based on inflation and meeting the Rose standards and our vision, over $800 million would be needed by 2020. We appreciate working as closely as we did this year with the Legislature and look forward to helping them get this right. Education is our state’s top priority and I think we all want every child to succeed. More to follow!