It’s crunch time in school finance

When the Kansas Supreme Court last October struck down the public school finance law, it gave the Legislature until June 30 to fix it. 

“The State will have ample time and opportunity, whether by regular legislative session, special session, or a combination thereof, to bring the system into constitutional compliance so that we can make such a judgment — by that date,” the court said. 

Well, time’s almost up. 

The Legislature approved a new school finance bill on April 8 — the last day of the 2018 regular session — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and plaintiffs in the Gannon lawsuit must file legal briefs by April 30 and the court will hear oral arguments May 22. 

Advancing the $525 million, five-year funding increase featured numerous distractions and brinksmanship and was approved with the minimum number of required votes. And as if that wasn’t enough, shortly after the bill crossed the legislative finish line, state officials discovered an error that will reduce the final investment by $80 million unless legislators work on it again. 

What follows is a timeline of what the Legislature did in responding to the Kansas Supreme Court decision in the Gannon lawsuit — known as Gannon V. 

Oct. 2, 2017 

The court rules SB 19, signed into law in June, fails to provide an adequate or equitable funding system that is reasonably calculated to have all public school students meet or exceed standards designed to ensure they are successful after graduation. SB 19 increased school funding by approximately $300 million over two years. It is the fifth decision in the Gannon lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2010.  

Oct. 17, 2017 

Schools for Fair Funding, which represents plaintiff’s school districts, says the state needs to increase K-12 funding by $600 million to comply with the ruling. The group says that amount, plus the $300 million from SB 19, would equal the $900 million increase endorsed by the State Board of Education. Schools for Fair Funding also says the Legislature must fix four equity violations that the court identified as being unfair to low-wealth districts. 

Oct. 30, 2017 

Legislative leaders select an interim committee to work on addressing the court ruling, including whether to propose a constitutional amendment seeking to block the courts from ruling on legislative school finance decisions. The chairman of the committee, state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, would eventually write the proposed amendment aimed at taking the courts out of school finance decision on adequate funding. 

Dec. 29, 2017 

Republican legislative leaders hire Dr. Lori Taylor, a school finance expert and professor at Texas A&M University, to conduct a $245,000 school finance cost study. GOP leaders say the study will help the Legislature address the court ruling.  

Jan. 9 

In his final State of the State address, Gov. Sam Brownback calls for an additional $500 million for schools over five years, an increase in teacher pay, more school counselors and psychologists  and other proposals endorsed by the State Board of Education and Kansas State Department of Education. Brownback, who had been a frequent critic of school funding during his two terms, surprised many legislators with his proposals as he prepared to leave Kansas for a job in President Donald Trump’s administration. 

Jan. 31 

Jeff Colyer, the lieutenant governor, is sworn into office as the 47th governor, replacing Brownback. Colyer endorses the school finance proposals laid out earlier by Brownback. 

Feb. 5 

State Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka, is named chairman of the House K-12 Education Budget Committee to replace Larry Campbell who resigned his legislative seat to become Colyer’s state budget director. Patton served as president of KASB from 2010-12 and is currently president of the Seaman USD 345 school board on which he has served 15 years. 

March 16 

The Taylor-WestEd school finance study is completed and undermines those who call for a low- or no-cost solution. The study says it will cost from $450 million to $2.1 billion more to help Kansas reach stated goals of improving student achievement. The study also says Kansas schools were producing at nearly 96 percent of their potential cost efficiency on average.  

March 27 

In a late session development, the House Insurance Committee holds a hearing on a bill that would make it easier to sue school districts that don’t allow teachers to carry firearms and prohibit insurance companies from refusing to provide coverage for districts that allow concealed carry. The bill remains in committee. 

March 29-April 5 

In a period of one-week, a constitutional amendment to prevent Kansans from seeking judicial review of legislative decisions about how much funding is adequate for schools was introduced, heard in committee and then approved by the House Judiciary Committee. It hasn’t progressed any further, however, some legislators say it may advance if the court rules against the Legislature again. 

April 3 

The House approves a $500 million, five-year school finance bill but Senate Republican leaders announce they will not work on school finance until the Legislature approves placing the school finance amendment on the ballot. Within two days, however, the leaders reverse course and work on school finance continues. 

April 5 

The Senate approves a $275 million, five-year school finance bill. 

April 7-8 

With little movement in hammering out the differences between the House and Senate school finance plans, the House amends a Senate bill with the House funding level, approving it 63-56 and sending it to the Senate for an up or down vote. The Senate approves the bill 21-18 early April 8. Colyer pushes for passage and announces he will sign it into law, paving the way for Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to begin defending the legislation before the court. 

Important dates coming up include April 20, when the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group will make revenue estimates for the current fiscal year and next one and April 26, the start of the veto session. 

So, what happens if the issue isn’t resolved by June 30. That’s a question a lot of attorneys have opined about. Here is what the court said: “ … after that date we will not allow ourselves to be placed in the position of being complicit actors in the continuing deprivation of a constitutionally adequate and equitable education owed to hundreds of thousands of Kansas school children.” 

Share this post