Lawmakers have until April 30 to craft a new school financing formula. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled legislators’ latest school finance mechanism doesn’t adequately calculate funding.
In an 88-page opinion, justices address adequacy and equity issues. The opinion stops short of naming a dollar amount required to meet the Court’s standards. However, the justices suggest at least $480 more in base-state-aid per pupil based on standards the Court set in a 2006 Montoy decision. Currently, school districts receive $4,006 per weighted pupil during the 2017-2018 school year. It was set to increase to $4,128 next year.
The Kansas Supreme Court building is located across the street from the Kansas Capitol building, and Dave Trabert, President of Kansas Policy Institute, says the Justices are on the wrong side of the street.
“They need to run for office if they want to appropriate money,” he said.
The opinion marks the sixth ruling involving the same plaintiffs from the Kansas Supreme Court. Justices wrote Kansas schools have been inadequately funded for 12 of the last 15 years.
The funding formula legislators adopted last session, SB 19, added millions in new funding over the next two years, but the Court took issue with a number of provisions in the latest funding formula.
Justices ruled that the latest financing mechanism fails to create equal access to substantially similar education opportunities due to changes in local option budget and capital outlay funding. The new funding included additional state monies for all-day kindergarten.
The Justices wrote there are advantages to all-day kindergarten, but 91 percent of students were utilizing all-day kindergarten funded through other means.
“…We also observe that some districts were charging parents for the portion of all-day kindergarten costs not covered under the prior law,” the opinion reads. “With the need for those charges now being eliminated by SB 19, it is clear the change will not result in ‘new money’ for all districts.”
The ruling also takes issue with the Legislature’s use of the successful schools model to determine adequate funding. Lawmakers selected 41 Kansas school districts that met or exceeded standards and then created baseline funding based on those districts’ spending patterns.
Justices opined that the schools selected calculated their own funding based upon what they were allowed to spend.
“Simply put, merely performing ‘better than expected’–while perhaps a test for efficiency–is not our Kansas test for constitutional adequacy,” the opinion reads.
Trabert says the Court is substituting its opinion for the rule of law.
“This won’t help kids whatsoever. Just sending a large bag of money with no strings attached has never and will never improve student outcomes,” he said.
The 2018 legislative session begins in January. The Court’s opinion tasks lawmakers with filing briefs in support of their remedies by April 30 for the Court to reach a decision on lawmakers’ latest attempt at a new finance formula no later than June 30, 2018. Three justices–Dan Biles, Lee Johnson, and Eric Rosen–dissented from part of the opinion. They sought immediate remedies, rather than allowing the Kansas Legislature several months. Justices Carol Beier and Caleb Stegall did not hear the case. They were replaced by senior judges Michael Malone and David Stutzman.