How the Supreme Court answered questions about Kansas school finance

How the Supreme Court answered questions about Kansas school finance

Here is how
the Kansas Supreme Court answered questions raised in the briefs filed by both
parties and oral arguments May 22, in yesterday’s unanimous ruling.
1.      
How much is enough? The state says actions by the Legislature over the past two sessions
will provide $1 billion more in school funding over a six-year period. The
plaintiffs want $500 million added to what the Legislature did immediately (for
next school year) and up to $2 billion more phased in and adjusted for
inflation. Gannon VI answer: The court accepted the state’s argument
that the Legislature could return to the funding levels approved by the court
in the Montoy case for 2010, which was presumed constitutional, if that
amount is adjusted for inflation. This is called the “Montoy safe
harbor.” However, the court said the amount of funding provided must be
further adjusted for inflation for the years that additional fund has already
been provided (2018 and 2019), and for the additional phase-in years approved
this past Legislative session (2020 through 2023). The court directed the
Legislature to make those adjustments during the 2019 session.
2.      
Meaning of the latest cost study. The state says the $2 billion cost of meeting
state standards developed by Dr. Lori Taylor and others is based on “moon
shot” aspirational goals that should not be required constitutional
adequacy. It argues the Legislature used another approach to adequacy, based on
previous rulings of constitutional compliance in 2009. The plaintiffs say the
new study’s goals are based on what Kansas students need to be successful, as
defined by the State Board of Education, and the new study confirms what
previous state-commissioned studies, a peer review this Spring, and an
alternative study commissioned by the plaintiffs found about the cost of
meeting state standards. Several justices questioned why the Legislature has
repeatedly paid for cost studies it then doesn’t want to follow. Gannon VI
answer
: By accepting the “safe harbor” – assuming the Legislature
complies with the adjustments for inflation – the court said it does not need
to consider new studies. “As a result, we need not address whether the
WestEd (Taylor) cost study and Myer-Picus Report (commissioned by the
Plaintiffs) can be considered for the first time on appeal.”
3.      
What is required to meet the “Rose” standards? The Supreme Court
has set the standard for adequacy as enabling “all” students to meet
or exceed seven standards of educational competence, from basic skills to
preparation for college and career, called the Rose standards after a Kentucky
school finance case. A major reason courts found the current finance system
unconstitutional is that about 25 percent of students score below “grade level”
on Kansas state tests and nearly 15 percent do not graduate on time. The state
says approved funding should[LF1]  allow 85 percent of students to reach grade
level. Plaintiffs say the target should be at least 90 of students on grade
level and 60 percent of students “college ready” on state tests.
Justices asked how high the constitutionally acceptable bar had to be – can
schools be expected to reach 100 percent? Put another way, can more money solve
all educational issues? Gannon VI answer: The court essentially accepted
that the level of funding committed in the Montoy case as
constitutionally suitable, if adjusted for inflation.
4.      
Does money matter? No debate here: both sides agree additional funding will improve
education. The state says its billion-dollar increase will significantly
improve student success and should satisfy the constitutional requirement. The
plaintiffs say it won’t go far enough. Gannon VI answer: As noted, there
is really no debate that money matters; the court determined that, at this
point, the Montoy level is acceptable if adjusted for inflation.
5.      
The role of the court. Several justices expressed concern that any
decision based on substantially new facts – such as the new cost study – would
go beyond their scope as an appeals court. They raised the possibility of
sending the case back to the three-judge panel to consider new evidence.
Neither side expressed much support for a step that would add months or years
to the process. Gannon VI answer: The Court accepted the Montoy safe
harbor approach and avoided consideration of new cost studies as evidence.
6.      
The role of the State Board of Education in funding. Article 6,
section 1 of the Kansas Constitution gives the Legislature the duty to
“establish a system of public schools” for educational improvement; and in
later sections delegates to the State Board authority for “general supervision”
of public schools; to local school boards the duty to “maintain, develop and
operate” schools and to the Legislature the duty to “make suitable provision
for finance.” The state says this means the Legislature has the primary role,
and the State Board is to supervise the system the Legislature “establishes.”
The plaintiffs argue the State Board has independent authority to set
educational standards for schools and students which the Legislature then must
support with adequate funding. When asked if that means the State Board could
lower standards (and therefore costs), plaintiffs replied that the Supreme
Court should then intervene to the enforce the provision that the public
education system must provide educational “improvement.” Gannon VI answer:
By accepting the Montoy safe harbor, the court did not address changing
standards by the State Board.
7.      
Retaining jurisdiction. The school finance bill passed in the 2018
session includes phasing in more than $400 million spread over the next four
years. The plaintiffs want more money now AND a phase-in of additional funds.
However, the state wants the court to dismiss the case, which means if the
Legislature failed to follow through, a new lawsuit would have to be filed. The
plaintiffs want the court to retain jurisdiction until any final resolution is
fully implemented, which could be more than five years. The Supreme Court
allowed a three-year phase-in as part of the Montoy case in the late
2000’s. Gannon VI answer: Because the court ruled the Legislature has
not fully complied, the case will continue for at least another year.
8.      
What happens to the Local Option Budget? The state claims
the new requirement of a 15 percent LOB should count in its favor because it
will increase the mandatory commitment of funding for each district. (For
example, it would keep local school districts from using additional state aid
to offset their LOB and reduce local property taxes.) Plaintiffs argue that a
mandatory LOB should be 100 percent equalized by the state, rather than
equalized to the 81.2 percentile under current law. The court has approved the
81.2 percent rate for the currently optional LOB. Plaintiffs also want the
court to remove any voter protest or election requirements for the LOB and
strike a provision that requires districts to use LOB funding for at-risk and
bilingual education programs in proportion to amount of at-risk and bilingual
weighting they receive. Gannon VI answer: Gannon VI answer: The court
accepted the state’s arguments on the LOB, which means districts will have to
maintain a minimum 15 percent LOB; that adopting an increase in the LOB greater
than the statewide average for the preceding year is subject to voter protest
petition, which would result in an election; and that districts must transfer
amounts from the LOB to at-risk and bilingual funds amounts in proportion to
their at-risk and bilingual weighting.
9.      
When will the court decide? That’s up the court. It previously promised a
decision by June 30. If the Legislature’s action is found to be insufficient,
the state has asked that the system be allowed to operate (schools remain open)
during the upcoming school year (while about $200 million will be added) and
the Legislature given next session to continue to work toward compliance.
Plaintiffs say unless the Legislature approves additional funding for the
upcoming school year, more funding committed for the future and changes to the
LOB, the court should shut down the school finance system until it does – but
want exceptions to allow maintenance of school district buildings and property
while schools are closed. Gannon VI answer: Having reached this
decision, the courts set a date of April 15, 2019, for briefs on the
Legislature response next session, response briefs due April 25, and oral
arguments May 9.