Funding Schools is Difficult but Necessary

Education advocates are carefully watching how the legislature responds to the latest Gannon decision. In October, the Kansas Supreme Court once again ruled that our state funding for public education is unconstitutionally inadequate and inequitable. The plaintiffs and the state agreed that the overall structure of the formula was sound, but the court found that the funding was too low and has given the legislature until April 30 to present the court with a constitutional plan.

Legislative reaction to the ruling has been mixed. Many legislators expected the court’s decision and are ready to work on determining what funding is needed and finding a way to provide it. Other legislators are indicating they will not provide additional revenue for school funding and calling for a constitutional amendment to weaken the language referring to the legislature’s obligation to provide suitable funding for public schools in Kansas.  Sen. Wagle has questioned the court’s motives in issuing a decision to increase funding as we enter an election year (though we assert that problem could have been avoided if they had worked on a new school finance formula during the 2 years of the block grant rather than waiting until the 2017 session and then relying on a faulty application of the so-called “Successful Schools Model”).

So where do we go from here?

The legislature will convene an interim committee to address the Gannon decision, and we are pleased with that decision. It is extremely important for a body of the legislature to start grappling with a meaningful resolution to the Gannon litigation.  We hope that they will rely on sound analyses of what Kansas children need and what it realistically will cost. Unfortunately, Rep. Ryckman has given the committee a broad scope. The first meeting of the committee is scheduled for December 4, and the agenda is “Overview of Gannon V and discussion of equity and adequacy issues and possible responses to those issues.” Statements by Rep. Ryckman, Sen. Denning and others indicate that they plan to consider a constitutional amendment to make it harder to seek the court’s help when the legislature chooses to underfund education. We have seen claims that the people need to have a voice in determining whether our constitution should require our legislature to provide adequate funding. 

We believe the people have provided ample evidence of our desires over the past couple of years. We would like to remind our legislators that in 2016 they tried amending the constitution. They also tried defending the tax policy that led to constrained revenue streams for education and other essential state services. But Kansas voters cleared any confusion about what the people want by voting to retain our Supreme Court justices and replacing about a third of our legislature. We hope that the legislature quickly abandons its efforts to move the goalposts at this point in the game and instead focuses on doing what needs to be done.

Public education advocates understand the fiscal hole we find our state in, but we also understand the critical importance of providing an adequate education to every Kansas child. That is a monumental task, but it is one that cannot be abandoned. We understand our legislators find themselves in a difficult situation, and we are open to creative solutions, but trying to undo their constitutional obligations to Kansas children is not a solution. We also understand that we may be asking legislators to cast votes that will make them vulnerable to attacks, and we must ensure that our friends and neighbors remember the lessons we learned during the years of the failed Brownback tax experiment and support those legislators.

Game On for Kansas Schools will be sharing information on the developments in the interim committee as well as the 2018 legislative session and beyond. Follow us to stay informed:

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