TOPEKA — The Kansas State Board of Education voted Tuesday to recommend lawmakers comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order by adding a 1.4 percent inflationary adjustment to scheduled improvements in state aid for K-12 public schools that equates to an extra $90 million annually to districts.
The Supreme Court issued an opinion in June endorsing the bulk of the 2018 Legislature's strategy for funneling $525 million over five years to schools for the purpose of complying with education provisions in the Kansas Constitution. The justices concluded, however, that legislators and the governor must finance an inflation adjustment during years two through five of that plan.
The state board rejected during a meeting in Topeka a four-year proposal with a 1.44 percent inflation rate before adopting a two-year recommendation at that same rate. The rate was drawn from calculations included in the Supreme Court's latest opinion in the school-finance case.
"If our goal is just to be constitutional ... I think it's a reasonable place to start," said Jim Porter, chairman of the state Board of Education who resides in Fredonia. "We have a (state) budget surplus that will fund what we're asking for without any tax increases."
Jim McNiece, a Wichita board member, made the motion to extend the inflation adjustment over four years. He said proposing a more robust inflation rate could stir political controversy when the Legislature convenes in January.
He dismissed concern shared by Topeka board member Ann Mah and several of her colleagues that the cumulative increase in state aid to public education — the $525 million in base aid plus the inflation piece — would still fall below what the board sought two years ago.
"You have to look at the political realities of where we are today compared to two years ago," McNiece said. "We are a partner in this. It will disappoint some. There's no easy answer. There's only moving forward."
"I know you guys want to play nice," said Mah, who was skeptical appropriations would be insufficient to meet academic objectives embraced by the state board.
Steve Roberts, an Overland Park board member, said he didn't support funding increases adopted by the Legislature nor the proposed 1.4 percent inflation enhancement. He recommended the board gradually raise base state aid per-pupil to $4,400 and supplement that with a 1 percent inflation rate.
"Is there a better way to do this? Is there a state that does it well?" Roberts said.
Under the five-year plan reviewed by the Supreme Court, base state aid in Kansas expanded to $4,165 in the current school year. It would grow to $4,302 in 2019-2020, $4,439 in 2020-2021, $4,576 in 2021-2022 and $4,713 in 2022-2023.
If the Legislature, governor and Supreme Court accepted the state board's recommendation on inflation, the base would reset at $4,436 in 2019-2020 and $4,569 in 2020-2021. The inflation allocations would cost the state $92 million in the first year and $89 million the second year.