Special Committee on school finance digs into funding in second meeting

The Kansas Legislature’s Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision on Monday began digging in to how the state — and local school boards — fund Kansas K-12 public schools. 

Lawmakers spent time weighing how public education funding impacts and interacts with the overall state budget. The committee also learned that the state would like to have lawmakers’ response to the Gannon school finance case in hand by March 1.  

The special committee is charged with exploring legislative options in response to the Kansas Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon case that the school funding system is inadequate and inequitable. The committee met once earlier this month; Monday and Tuesday are its final meetings. 

The 2018 Legislature convenes Jan. 8. The court has given legislators until the end of April to come up with a remedy. 

KASB has prepared a response to the Gannon ruling and statement that the state’s future depends on the Legislature adequately funding K-12.  

Much of the committee’s morning work centered around various cost studies of state support for K-12 public education, including the Legislature’s own Legislative Post Audit analysis in 2006 and the 2001 Augenblick and Meyers study. Staff also noted a nationwide study in which 38 of 39 state cost studies recommended additional funding for schools. 

Art Chalmers, who helped represent the defendants in the most recent iteration of the Gannon case, said the Legislature could help the state’s 2018 case by wrapping up its work by March 1, roughy two months before the state supreme court’s April 30 deadline. 

“April 30 is too late; that’s when the brief is due,” Chalmers said. 

Rep. Larry Campbell, who chaired the House K-12 Education Budget Committee in 2017, asked if data from other states would help show success. KASB’s Comparing Kansas report notes the nine states that outperform Kansas public schools on a number of indicators all spend more than Kansas. 

The committee’s post-lunch session kicked off with a discussion of how the state might raise additional funds to comply with the Supreme Court’s finding that SB 19 didn’t adequately fund K-12 public schools. The Gannon plaintiffs have suggested an additional $600 million be added over two or three years, in addition to the funds provided by the 2017 Legislature.  

State revenues overall have declined sharply following income tax cuts enacted by the 2012 Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback. A sluggish state economy, particularly in the energy and agriculture sectors, has exacerbated the state’s budget woes. 

In 2017, lawmakers enacted legislation over Brownback’s veto that rolled back some of the income tax cuts. While revenue projections are trending up in recent months, legislative staff project economic growth rates of 1.6 to 1.7 percent for the next few fiscal years. That’s below the annual inflation rate of 2.2 percent. 

Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ron Ryckman and others have publicly opposed tax increases in 2018.  

Legislative analyst J.G. Scott told the committee that if K-12 was to receive an additional $600 million in 2018 with no new tax revenue, other state agencies would have to absorb an 18 percent across the board budget cut.  

Those cuts would include $65.6 million from the Department of Corrections, $117 million from the Department of Health and the Environment, $47 million from the Department of Children and Families, and $136 million from the Kansas Board of Regents. 

While the 18 percent cut projections may have been a mostly theoretical exercise, they illustrate the difficulty the Legislature faces in 2018. “Any time you exclude K-12 (from cuts), you have drastic reductions everywhere else,” Scott noted.  

Committee Chair Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, told the Lawrence Journal-World that the legislative options for complying with the Court decision “are fairly ugly.” 

Tuesday’s agenda is devoted to discussion of a possible amendment to the state constitution and trends in school finance litigation.

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