HIGH COURT REJECTS SCHOOL FINANCE PLAN; SPECIAL SESSION LOOMS
The Kansas Supreme Court slammed the door shut on the Kansas Legislature’s latest attempt at K-12 school finance (HB 2247) last Friday. In its unanimous ruling, the Court rejected the $142 million increase and instead ordered a $285 million increase to K-12 school funding by July 1st.
The court also rejected the Legislature’s desires to have wealthier school districts tap into additional local property taxes, stating that these additional taxing provisions were “potentially disequalizing” (i.e. – would leave poorer school districts further behind).
In its ruling, the Court stated that the Legislature’s increase of $142 million was arbitrary since no cost study or other data was used as a basis for developing the amount. The Court believes, however, that the 2001 Augenblick and Myers study is the only information presently available that resembles a legitimate cost study. Their order for increasing funding by $285 million represents one third of the total amount of $853 million recommended by the A&M study. They also have indicated that they would consider ordering that the remaining two-thirds ($568 million) be added to the 2006-2007 school year if the Legislature fails to enact a suitable funding formula during the 2006 session.
I had anticipated the Court removing the new local property tax provisions as I have always felt that those provisions would only increase the disparity in the quality of education offered in school districts across Kansas. Furthermore, these local property tax provisions were included to secure Johnson County legislator support and get the bill onto the Governor’s desk. The Court’s willingness, however, to mandate specific dollar amounts for funding increases in K-12 education makes it clear that it is serious about correcting existing deficiencies in the school finance formula now.
As we gear up for the first special legislative session since 1989, a number of media stories have surfaced about various legislators who were surprised and angered with the court’s school finance ruling. I believe that the Kansas Supreme made its intentions perfectly clear in its January 3, 2005 ruling striking down Kansas’ school finance formula. In that ruling, the Court stated that “The equity with which the funds are distributed and the actual costs of education, including appropriate levels of administrative costs, are critical factors for the legislature to consider in achieving a suitable formula for financing education.” The January 3 ruling also went on to state that “By contrast, the present financing formula increases disparities in funding, not based on a cost analysis, but rather on political and other factors not relevant to education”. The court indicated what should be used as a basis for developing a sound finance formula prior to the beginning of the 2005 session, and legislative leadership simply chose to ignore their guidance.
HB 2247 simply misses the mark. There was never any “rational basis” (i.e. – cost analysis support) for the funding increases and formula changes as legislated. Therefore, I did not support the bill. The Kansas Legislature now needs to quickly get to work during the special session to find the revenues needed to meet the additional spending as ordered by the Court.
Next, the Legislature needs to set its sights on developing a bipartisan school finance plan during the 2006 legislative session that reflects the actual costs of educating kids in Kansas. I hope that cooler heads will prevail during the special session and that we can move on down the road towards properly funding K-12 education without unduly burdening Kansas taxpayers.