President’s Perspective: Early resolution needed to school finance

by C. Patrick Woods
KASB President
Topeka USD 501

Greetings fellow board members. It’s that time again – the Legislature has returned; the inauguration of the new governor has occurred; and the 2019 legislative session has begun.

This year, as in every year past, education is atop the list of hot topics the Legislature and the new governor must address. You’ll recall there is a current case at the Kansas Supreme Court concerning school finance, Gannon v. State of Kansas, which called into question the state’s adherence to the constitutional requirement for adequate and equitable school finance.

You’ll also recall that last session the Legislature took a significant step toward fulfilling its constitutional obligation by passing a five-year, $520 million school funding package. Now, this is certainly a good deal of money, and very much appreciated by school board members and educators working to provide for the success of all students.

However, it comes after years of harmful cuts and woefully inadequate funding from the state. The Court has ruled that while this bill took the first step toward satisfying the constitutional obligation, more is required to resolve this issue, and therefore the Court has retained jurisdiction over the case.
Gov. Laura Kelly has declared that her top priority for the session is to commit the funding necessary, including inflationary adjustments, to pass Court muster and satisfy the state’s constitutional obligation for K-12 funding adequacy. Through her Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal, the governor has started the hard work of realizing this promise. Now, the ball is in the Legislature’s court.

Reach out to Legislators

I’m writing you today, fellow school board members, to urge you to lean on your legislators to act quickly and resolve the issue of school finance during the earliest days of the session. This is entirely possible because the state’s financial status has improved dramatically since the repeal of former Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax experiment. In fact, the most recent report from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, the financial experts that study the state’s economic activity and predict revenue receipts, revised their revenue projections up by over $300 million, or 4.4 percent.

The state’s projected ending balance at present is over $900 million, or 12.6 percent, which far exceeds the statutorily required
7.5 percent (a statute that has been ignored for years). According to the Kansas State Board of Education, it would take an additional $364 million, phased in over the next four years ($90 million) to meet the Supreme Court’s ruling, requiring the inflationary adjustments.

We also know the attorneys representing the plaintiffs have said they agree with the State Board’s estimate. This is a ready-made, simple and easy solution for the state to grab hold of – the Legislature sends the bill dedicating the requisite funds to the governor, gets her signature, they fund it from the excess, and the state removes the heaviest weight from its yoke for the foreseeable future. Who wouldn’t accept that deal?

Now is the time all Kansans should join together and urge our legislators to embrace this solution. School board members, as elected officials responsible for governance for the state’s most critical institution, are uniquely positioned to lead this effort. Based on the priorities of locally elected school boards, we know the additional funding will go toward securing a first-class education for all students by funding efforts to attract and retain excellent educators, address school safety and mental health needs that impact learning, and to eliminate the achievement gap.

While there are many demands on the state budget, all of them important, revenue has been exceeding projections for over a year and a half. Keeping our promise to Kansas students is entirely within the realm of possibility. All that’s required now is the political will to act and the common sense to embrace the simple, obvious solution.

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