HIGH NOON AT THE EDUCATION CORRAL
The Kansas Supreme Court last Friday ordered both plaintiffs and defendants in the Montoy K-12 school finance lawsuit to appear before them on May 11. On that date, both parties will argue whether or not the recently passed school finance plan (HB 2247) complies with the opinion of the court issued on January 3 of this year when the court stated that the Kansas legislature failed to “make suitable provision for finance” of our public schools. My reading of this most recent order leads me to believe that HB 2247 will be in for some rough sledding with the justices.
Both sides have been instructed to submit briefs to the justices that address the major components of the new finance plan. The court is particularly interested in knowing if the actual costs in providing a suitable education were considered in development of the most recent formula. The justices also want to know if HB 2247 will possibly create even further funding disparities between Kansas school districts. Of particular significance, both sides have been asked to discuss the constitutional significance of certain aspects of HB 2247. Specifically, the parties need to address the failure of the Kansas Legislature to appropriate money for 1) the Skills for Success program, 2) the new Consumer Price Index – Urban increase in state aid, and 3) annual increases in state aid for excess special education costs. The court has also asked the parties to address the failure of the Legislature to identify a source of funding for the school finance formula beyond the 2005-2006 school year.
My opinion of HB 2247 is that the bill does not even come close to addressing the concerns of the court as outlined in their January 3 ruling. Instead, it is a short-term fix that attempts to make local property taxes the engine for funding additional K-12 education spending. This approach is very unfair for 10 District retirees, small businesses, and those individuals living on a fixed income. Just as troublesome, only the wealthiest school districts will be able to provide additional monies for their teachers and schools to meet burgeoning federal mandates while the rest of the state falls further behind. If left intact by the Kansas Supreme Court, HB 2247 will ensure that the quality of a child’s education in Kansas will primarily be determined by the school district that child lives in. If an educated workforce and economic development are the keys to a prosperous Kansas, then HB 2247 is simply not the answer to our school finance dilemma.