Messages for legislators at Turnaround Break

Messages for legislators at Turnaround Break

The 2019 Legislature has reached its first major deadline: most bills are supposed to be passed by the first house and sent to the second house, called “Turnaround.” When the Legislature returns next Wednesday after a short break, it will be one month until the regular session adjourns.

School leaders may be wondering what they should be saying to legislators at this point, especially if they see them at home over the break. Here are some thoughts.

First, when does the Legislature need to act? The clock is still ticking on the Kansas Supreme Court order to finally resolve the Gannon school finance case. Briefs are due April 15 and oral arguments are scheduled May 9. To recap, the court ruled last summer that the “five-year plan” passed last session could reach constitutional suitability by restoring base funding to 2009 levels when adjusted for inflation. However, if the Legislature stretches out the phase-in to 2023, it must adjust the plan for inflation over that period.

The State Board of Education proposed a plan to add funding to levels already approved for 20020 though 2023. Gov. Laura Kelly recommended that plan in her budget request, and the proposal has been introduced in several bills. The Senate Select Committee on Education Finance held a hearing on the entire K-12 appropriations bill, SB 44, earlier this session but took no action. Senate leaders then split the additional funding to address the Supreme Court into a second bill, SB 142, which has a hearing next Wednesday in the same committee.

Clearly, to meet the court’s deadline and resolve an issue important to the rest of the state budget, the Legislature must move quickly on this issue.

Second, how much funding is needed? The amount of the inflation adjustment recommended by the State Board seems to be the minimum required. There are other ways to calculate an inflation adjustment that would cost far more. But as KASB pointed out in testimony on SB 44, this proposal would do the following:

It should bring total school operating budgets close to 2009 levels when adjusted for inflation, by 2023.

Since 2009, Kansas total per pupil funding has fallen compared to the U.S. average, the highest achieving states in the national, and state in the region with the best student outcomes (Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota and Minnesota). This level of funding would likely restore Kansas position compared to these states.

School funding would still be a lower share of the total income of Kansas than in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

Third, how should additional funding be allocated? The State Board and governor’s proposal directs most additional funding to base state aid, which seems the clearest way to satisfy the court’s concerns. Base aid was how the 2018 Legislature calculated its plan for suitable funding, which the court accepted.

Some legislators have suggested targeting additional funding for specific programs, to answer the court’s concerns about low achieving students, although no specific alternative allocations have been presented for public hearings.

School leaders should discuss their specific local concerns about funding choices, but we know from priorities adopted by KASB members and how districts have allocated new funding over the past two years that school boards have the following priorities:

  • Increase salaries and benefits to be competitive in recruiting and retaining teachers and other school staff.
  • Improve student success from lower achieving students through expanded early childhood, special education services, and at-risk programs for students have lagged behind in academic performance.
  • Strengthen support for school safety and the mental and physical health of students.
  • Raise the high school graduation rate and help more students successfully complete postsecondary credentials and degrees.

By every indication, legislators share these same goals. The question is whether the Legislature should direct money to specific programs or allow local school boards to determine the best allocation of dollars to meet these goals in their individual communities.

As always, school leaders and legislators are welcome to direct questions about any of these issues to KASB.