Some legislators, candidates and organizations are complaining that the Kansas Supreme Court, rather than the Legislature, is setting the level of school funding in the state. However, it is important to understand that the court’s decisions have relied almost entirely on the evidence in studies requested and paid for the by the Legislature itself.
Since 2000, the Kansas Legislature has commissioned and funded three major education cost studies.
The first was conducted by the consultants Augenblick and Myers and released in 2001. It was commissioned by the Legislature before the Montoy case reached the courts. It used two methods – professional judgment and successful schools model – and said the state needed to add about $229 million, or 8.1 percent more funding, to reach goals set by the Legislative Educational Planning Committee, the legislative body which oversaw both K-12 and higher education.
With no other study or other evidence of education costs, the district court and Supreme Court accepted the A&M study as credible evidence in finding that the state was not providing constitutionally suitable funding.
In response, the 2005 Legislature and a special session reached an agreement with the Supreme Court to increase school funding AND commission a new study, this one conducted by the Legislature’s own audit and research agency, the Legislative Division of Post Audit.
The second study was released in early 2006, and also used two methods: an “inputs” approach based on the costs of providing state required courses and services, and an “outcomes” approach based on meeting student assessment and graduation rate targets required by the federal No Child Left Behind act. The study said funding would need to increase between $316 million and $399 million to meet the state’s educational goals.
Although the study did not find a national consensus among researchers about the link between funding and student achievement, it DID find in KANSAS a nearly one to one correlation” between funding and results.
Based on this study, the Legislature agreed to a three-year plan to increase funding and a fourth year (2010) with an inflation adjustment in the base aid per pupil. The Supreme Court then dismissed the case. However, by 2010 state school aid was being reduced due to the recession and tax cuts, and has never fully recovered when adjusted for inflation. This led to the Gannon lawsuit.
Although the 2017 Legislature added about $300 million to school funding spread over two years, the Supreme Court said the state had not shown clear evidence that amount would provide suitable funding. Last December, the Legislative Coordinating Council hired another consultant, Dr. Lori Taylor, to do a third cost study with the assistance of WestEd, as well as an independent peer review of that study.
The Taylor study was designed to find the cost of achieving student test scores and graduation rates based on the Kansas State Board of Education’s federal plan for student achievement, the achievement of the top performing Kansas districts, and improvement that occurred when the system had been constitutionally funded after Montoy. It determined that it would cost an additional $400 million to raise graduation rates to 95 percent, $1.7 billion to get 90 percent of students to grade level on state tests, and $2 billion to get 60 percent of students to “college ready” on state tests.
The study also specifically found a “strong, positive statistically significant correlation between funding and results,” and that Kansas school districts were highly efficient, among the best in the nation. The study methods were validated by the independent peer review.
However, the Kansas Legislature decided not to use this much more expensive study as the basis of increased funding, but instead approved a five-year funding plan based on getting back to the 2010 level as determined by the LPA study, adjusted for inflation through 2017.
Although the Gannon plaintiffs wanted the Supreme Court to use the new study to order even more funding, the court did not do so. It only said the Legislature must also adjust the five-year phase-in to keep up with inflation from 2017 until it is implemented.
To summarize, all three education cost studies requested and funded by the Legislature itself have found that K-12 funding was not adequate to meet the state’s educational goals for students. Two of the studies specifically found that in Kansas, at least, funding does make a difference in student success. The most recent study also found that Kansas schools are highly efficient.
In other words, the Kansas courts are not telling the Legislature how much to spend based on an amount judges make up on their own, or even requested by the plaintiffs. They are telling the Legislature it must fund schools based on its own evidence of what it costs to achieve the state’s educational goals.