School funding ruling

NEIGHBORS

The Kansas Supreme Court issued its decision in the Gannon case regarding K12 school funding in Kansas.  Details follow.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

This lawsuit was brought by citizens against the State of Kansas claiming that the level of school funding was not constitutional. It is the job of the Legislature to fund schools.  When people think the State is acting in an unconstitutional manner, they go to court to get a ruling. That is the job of the courts.

There were two aspects to this case – equity and adequacy. Equity means that the amount of property taxes school district patrons must pay should be about the same around the state.  The Kansas Supreme Court ruled there should be a more “equal effort” statewide and the Legislature addressed that already.

The parents/schools suing the state said that there was an inadequate amount of funding. In other words, the amount being spent was not enough to meet the state’s educational goals. They claimed that whole groups of students were being left behind. The Supreme Court agreed.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Supreme Court ruled that the block grants put in place by the Legislature in 2015 are unconstitutional. They did not set an amount of money that had to be added. They told the legislature to come up with a constitutional funding formula by June 30. The legislature has to fix the adequacy issue and be sure that equity is still covered as well. If the legislature fails to act, the Supreme Court could take further action, including closing schools until the formula is fixed.

ITEMS OF INTEREST

Here are some statements from the ruling I found interesting:

  • In determining “how much is enough” to spend, the Court said that “the adequacy requirement is met when the public education financing system provided by the legislature for grades K-12 – through structure and implementation – is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the standards set out in Rose and presently codified” in state law.
  • The Court looked at both the “inputs” (money put in) and “outputs” (results). The Court said that “total funding” was not a measure of adequacy. The Justices also said that many funding sources could be considered toward accomplishing adequacy, but the bottom line was that Rose standards had to be met.
  • What is Rose? The Rose capacities are a set of standards that came out of another case in Kentucky The Court said if students could meet those standards, then we had funded enough. (See below for details)
  • Even though the state ranks high on national tests, state tests show we are leaving too many students behind. The court cited that one-fourth of all its public school K-12 students fall behind in basic reading and math and harder-to-educate students even more. Nearly one-half of African-American students and one-third of Hispanic students are not proficient in reading and math. More than one-third of students on free and reduced lunches are not proficient in reading and math. Only 26% of Kansas high school graduates met the ACT benchmarks in all four areas it tests.
  • Money matters. The Court said that “student performance reflected in this data is related to funding levels”. The best results were seen when the funding was increased. The cuts to funding during the national recession hurt schools and outcomes.
  • The Court noted that to meet the Rose standards, things like extracurricular activities, the arts, librarians, speech therapists, vocational training, technology, coaches, counselors, etc., were important and that these things had been cut out due to inadequate funding.
  • The test the Court set out for adequacy was a minimal level. The legislature could decide to fund at higher levels if it wants.
  • The State argued that the Court should stay out of this issue because school funding was a “political” issue. The Court disagreed.

If you want to read the order, go to: http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/SupCt/2017/20170302/113267.pdf

WHAT ARE WE TO FUND?

The Rose capacities or Rose standards came out of a court case in Kentucky. The Kansas Court said if students could do the following, then we had adequate funding:

  • Sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;
  • Sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the students to make informed choices;
  • Sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the students to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation;
  • Sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness;
  • Sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage;
  • Sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and
  • Sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.

The Legislature is to provide enough to fund all these things and the State Board of Education is to design subjects and areas of instruction to achieve these standards. The good news is that I believe the State Board of Education’s KansansCan vision is right in line with where we need to go. Now we need the money to get there.

WHAT’S NEXT? WHAT WILL IT COST?

The House K12 Education Budget committee has held hearings on a number of proposed funding formulas. The Senate has held no hearings I’m aware of to consider a formula. Both bodies will be at work next week to understand this order and hopefully come up with a constitutional funding formula.

The cost depends on the formula chosen and whether the legislature chooses to address just the students who are falling behind or all the aspects the Court pointed out.  I’ve heard estimates from $375 million to over $500 million. Property taxes are the most likely target for a fix, particularly raising the current 20 mill levy for schools. More to follow!