When the Kansas Legislature passed the midpoint of the current session, it was nowhere near resolving its biggest challenge.
Last fall, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the state’s most recent plan to fund K-12 public schools failed to provide a constitutionally adequate and equitable education for all Kansas schoolchildren. The Legislature has an April 30 deadline to report how it plans to respond to the ruling.
State lawmakers struggling for answers amid a budget crunch opted to pursue an in-depth study of the cost of providing constitutional school funding. While the idea sounded reasonable, the motives were questionable.
Senate President Susan Wagle made it clear what she wanted.
“We’re focused on finding experts who can help show the court that funding is adequate,” the Wichita Republican said before consultants were hired.
That meant the Senate president had no interest in seeing the state provide additional money for K-12 public schools, which was no surprise, considering the consistent anti-public education stand of her ultraconservative side.
Prior work of an expert eventually selected to conduct the study also was questionable. Lori Taylor, a professor at Texas A&M University, was contracted along with WestEd, a nonprofit education consultancy, to do the work for Kansas.
In a 2005 school finance case in Texas, a judge indicated Taylor’s research for the Texas Legislature was “not credible” and “seriously flawed.”
And now in Kansas, there’s reason to question what the state will receive for the $245,000 it forked over in taxpayer dollars for the study. During a recent presentation by Taylor to members of the House and Senate, far-right control of the exchange put limits on lawmakers’ questions and blocked follow-up questions.
A goal of the study is to evaluate costs needed to ensure favorable student outcomes. Details of benchmarks needed to better understand the study’s eventual recommendations weren’t made clear, however.
Ideally, findings of the study to be received by March 15 will provide useful information. Legislators face a tight deadline to deliver a plan.
But considering how the process unfolded, the study must be viewed with a wary eye by lawmakers and all others in the state.