Senate Education Committee hears Gannon overview

The Kansas Senate’s Standing Committee on Education on Tuesday heard an overview of the Gannon V court ruling. The committee – and Legislature – will grapple this year with the state Supreme Court’s finding that the school finance bill enacted in 2017 was neither adequate nor equitable in addressing education funding and achievement shortfalls. 

Committee Chair Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, told her panel she wanted to ensure the group had a good grounding in the Gannon V ruling and its implications before it began substantive work to respond to the ruling. In addition to Tuesday’s Gannon overview, the committee will on Wednesday hear about the school transportation audit directed in SB 19 as well as listen to former state senator and now Senate Special Counsel Jeff King describe the legislature’s hiring of independent consultants to assist the state in its response to the court. Thursday’s committee agenda calls for an overview of the work of the Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision.  

Tamera Lawrence and Nick Myers of the state Revisor of Statutes staff walked committee members through the State Constitution’s Article 6, which states, “the legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state” recent evolution of the Article’s standards. The USD 229 case established “quality performance accreditation standards” in 1994; the Montoy II case in 2005 said suitable provision for finance “must reflect a level of funding which meets the constitutional requirement;” and stated that equitable distribution of funds and the actual costs of education are critical factors for the Legislature to consider. The Gannon case in 2005 said adequacy is achieved when the Legislature’s public education funding system is reasonably calculated in funding and structure to have all Kansas public school students meet or exceed the Rose standards. The court in that ruling said its test for funding equity is that school districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity though similar tax effort. 

Lawrence and Myers then reviewed the Court’s rulings that SB 19 enacted in 2017 failed the equity and adequacy tests. SB 19 was inequitable, the court said, due to four factors: the provision that determined the state’s local option budget (LOB) equalization aid by using the preceding school year’s LOB amount; the use of capital outlay funds to pay for property and casualty insurance and utility expenses; the requirement for a protest petition or local election when a board proposes to increase its LOB levy to raise more than 30 percent of its general fund appropriation; and a 10 percent at-risk weighting awarded to wealthier school districts that wouldn’t otherwise quality for that extra per-pupil funding.  

The Court said that while SB 19 was structurally sound, the state’s use of a “successful schools” model to show SB 19 would meet student needs failed to demonstrate that the overall funding and base aid amount were constitutional and the state “had not established any valid figure through its calculations… to show SB 19 is constitutionally adequate” and that its calculations were an “outlier” among other studies that showed the legislature would likely need to provide more than the $300 million authorized in SB 19.  The court also found the bill’s base aid amount of $4,080 was inadequate. 

The court set an April 30 deadline for both parties to the lawsuit to submit their briefs on legislative remedies; response briefs are due on May 10. The court will hear oral arguments on May 22 and will hand down its decision no later than June 30 of this year. 

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