Moving Past the Impasse of School Finance

Today’s guest post is brought to you by David Smith, MainStream Coalition Board Member and Chief of Public Affairs for the Kansas City, Kansas Public School District.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 was the 100th day of the 2017 Kansas Legislative Session (the last day that was budgeted for in the 2017 session.) Interestingly, it was also the last day of school for the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. And with the failure of the Kansas Legislature to pass a new school funding formula that meets the constitutional test for adequacy, a budget for either FY 18 or FY 19, or a tax reform package that provide sufficient resources to fund either the new formula or the state budget after June 30, 2017, our district and districts across the state are left in a state of suspended animation. School districts do not know what their budget for next year will be, nor do they know if the Legislature will pass (and the Governor will sign) a constitutional funding formula which will allow them to continue to operate after June 30, 2017.

It is difficult to underestimate the impact of the current stalemate in Topeka on school districts. While school is out for most students, work is well underway in preparation for the new school year. Staff have to be hired, classrooms cleaned, floors polished, summer repair projects begun, buses cleaned, repaired and inspected, and this list could go on for two pages. This is in addition to the summer school classes that begin next week, and the summer feeding programs (which feed 4,000 people a day) which are scheduled through June and July. All of these plans, and more, are placed in jeopardy by the current situation in Topeka.

If the legislature does not come up with a constitutionally adequate funding formula by July 1, 2017, or the budget to adequately fund it, school districts will be prohibited from spending any money on these things, or anything else. This means that all summer programming, maintenance projects, and other preparations for the new school year will have to stop. Such a cessation would NOT be like pressing the “pause” button on a Netflix show: Our district has already been planning for weeks on how we would manage a shutdown, and the possibility of a shutdown has already forced us to change plans for summer school, maintenance projects, hiring, and many other things.

A shutdown would have an immediate impact on many district staff, who would not be able to work, and thus would not get paid. The impact would be most immediately and disproportionately felt by staff at the lower end of the pay scale, who are frequently most dependent on a regular source of income. And if the shutdown lasted more than a few days, it would necessarily push back the beginning of school; we simply would not have time to get everything done that we need to, in order to be ready to begin school on time.

So, it is incredibly important that a constitutionally adequate funding formula be passed soon, so that it can be reviewed by the Kansas Supreme Court. (The Court, in their February decision in the Gannon school funding case, set the requirement that schools be adequately funded by July 1, 2017.) Currently, the House of Representatives has passed Substitute for HB 2410, which creates a new funding formula, and provides $280 million in new funding over the next two years. Unfortunately, many people think that this level of funding is not adequate to meet the Supreme Court requirement for adequacy (several attempts were made, both in committee and on the floor of the House, to raise the funding level, but they were not successful).

 The Senate has its own bill, Substitute for HB 2186 (which also provides constitutionally inadequate levels of funding) which has passed out of committee, and will soon be heard on the Senate floor. So, what happens next?

We believe that the policies contained in Sub for HB 2410 (the new funding formula) are the best policies for the state’s 460,000 children. They are very similar to the policies contained in the previous formula (most districts think that the previous funding formula was NOT the problem, it was the inadequate levels of funding.) We also believe that it is long past time to get the formula to the Supreme Court, so it can make a decision on adequacy, and give the Legislature time to add more money.

While we wish the Legislature had found the will to provide the funding levels requested by the Kansas State Board of Education (over $800 million over two years), we recognize the commitment of the Legislature and the Governor to adequately fund public schools may not exist until the Court demands it. We are hopeful that the legislature will act quickly, so that we can avoid any interruption in either our summer programming or our planning for next year. The time is now to get it done. School districts, and kids, can’t wait. Contact your legislators, and ask them to PLEASE finish the job. Pass Sub for HB 2410, and get it to the Supreme Court, so they can rule. The entire state of Kansas is counting on it!

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