An overwhelming majority of Kansas voters think Kansas lawmakers should consider a constitutional amendment to end the school funding wars, according to a new poll.
The poll, commissioned by the Kansas Policy Institute, revealed that almost 60 percent of voters want the opportunity to weigh in on judicial interference in the school funding debate. Of those surveyed, 21 percent said they would like to see the state constitution changed making the Kansas Legislature solely responsible for determining school funding levels. Another 38 percent said they would like to see a constitutional provision that sets minimum funding levels so funding levels wouldn’t be open to legal interpretation. Twenty percent of respondents said funding should be set by the courts, and 21 percent said they aren’t sure.
James Franko, vice president and policy director of KPI, said Kansans are clearly tired of the judicial wrangling over school finance.
“The interests of adults are clearly taking precedence over the needs of Kansas students,” he said.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional school funding in October. Justices gave lawmakers an April 2018 deadline to craft a new funding mechanism for Court approval. The Court ruled that public school funding is inadequate despite lawmakers’ adoption of a formula that phased in $293 million in additional school funding over the next two years.
The Court’s most recent decision is the latest in a long line of school funding rulings. A special interim committee of state lawmakers met for the first time today to consider a legislative response to the Court-mandate. The agenda includes a review and analysis of the recent court decision. The 11-members will also explore options to reduce or eliminate the cycle of conflict over school finance. (Listen to the committee in real time here.)
The October ruling suggested lawmakers will need to add between $600 million and $1.4 billion in additional school funding, but the poll results reveal that most voters reject increasing taxes as a solution. The poll asked whether registered voters would mind a property tax increase, a surcharge on their incomes or a sales tax increase to satisfy the court and education lobby, and majority opposed all three options. Approximately 57 percent opposed nearly doubling property tax rates, including 55 percent of registered Democrat respondents. A similar majority–57 percent–opposed increasing the state sales tax rate from 6.5 percent to 8 percent. That number included 51 percent of registered Democrat respondents. A full 73 percent–including 66 percent of registered Democrat respondents, opposed increasing income tax rates through a 20 percent surcharge to meet the Court’s funding objectives.
“Kansans are sending a strong message to Topeka–stop letting the courts interfere with teachers, parents, and students,” Franko said.
The study questioned 512 registered voters and carries a 4.4 margin of error.