Kansas Legislators Told to Lower School Funding Expectations
Kansas' House finance committee members are being told by leadership to lower the amount of money they're considering giving the state's schools to satisfy a court ruling, which the plaintiffs' lawyers say will not be satisfactory, according to local reports. The court ruled earlier this year that the state's funding formula provided an unconstitutional amount for students to meet statewide academic benchmarks.
A pending proposal in the committee would increase the state's school funding by $750 million over the next five years.
But several legislators say there's not an appetite to raise income taxes and have pushed for a lower figure. Some of the legislature's more conservative members point to language in the ruling that says they must do whatever is "in their means" to raise school funding. They also point out that the supreme court justices said how the money is distributed matters as much as the amount that is distributed.
That's sparked a movement in the legislature to increase school accountability and more closely monitor spending habits. One earlier bill suggested adding just $75 million more to the state's funding formula, most of which would be targeted to its academically at-risk students.
Last week, Alan Rupe, the lawyer representing the four districts that originally sued in the Gannon v. Kansas case, said $750 million would not satisfy the ruling. He said the court would describe as "adequate" nothing less than $794 million, a figure based on an older funding formula that the court has previously cited as adequate. The state's school board has requested $893 million over two years.
The state faces a severe tax revenue shortfall, but Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has been adamantly opposed to raising taxes he slashed in 2012 and 2013. He vetoed in February a bill that would've increased income taxes and provided $1 billion to the state's budget.
Last year around this time, the state supreme court threatened to shut down the state's school systems unless the legislature reconvened and figured out a way to more equitably distribute money between its wealthy and poor school districts.
Many expect the court could take similar actions this year if the legislature doesn't come up with a decision by the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.