While local school officials applaud the decision made Monday by a three-member panel of the Shawnee County District Court — that current education funding is inadequate and unconstitutional — they, along with local lawmakers see the decision as only the beginning of a very steep mountain to climb.
While Representative John Doll, R-Garden City, is strongly in favor of providing adequate funding to schools, he said Monday’s decision just makes a tough situation tougher.
“Fiscally, we had a pretty high mountain to climb and that mountain more than doubled. It’s going to be interesting to see the pleasure of the administration to how we’re going to fill this hole,” Doll said.
The legislation is facing a $279-million dollar revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year, and a projected revenue shortfall of over $600 million on July 1, 2016, he said.
While the court did not specifically outline a dollar amount to add to the base state aid per pupil, BSAPP, the projected cost of getting school funding back up to par is estimated to be over $540 million, Doll said.
“So that’s a $1.1, 1.2 billion hole that we have to fill,” he said.
Representative Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, concurred with Doll, saying that it is going to be an extremely challenging legislative session, given the fact that much of the state’s revenue shortfall has been the result of income tax cuts and the only way to generate more revenue would be to raise other types of taxes.
“And there’s no way you could cut your way out of this. If the school funding is a have-to, constitutionally, now you’ve only got half of the budget left and you would literally have to zero out funding for all public safety, department of corrections — I mean you would have to zero those out to come up with that kind of money and you can’t do that. That just can’t happen,” Jennings said.
USD 457 Superintendent Dr. Rick Atha said Tuesday that the court’s decision was not really surprising.
“What might be surprising may be how the state legislature and governor responds collectively. Will they appeal the district court’s decision to the state Supreme Court or will they follow the court’s ruling? If this is their course of action, where will they find the revenue? To say the least, it’s going to be an interesting and memorable legislative session,” Atha said.
On Monday, the court’s decision stated that current funding is not sufficient for the “Rose standards,” a test for adequate funding.
The decision said, in part, “We find the Kansas public education financing system provided by the legislature for grades K-12 — through structure and implementation — is not presently reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the Rose factors. As we have analyzed, it is inadequate from any rational perspective of the evidence presented or proffered to us.”
Gov. Sam Brownback issued the following statement Monday, following the court’s ruling: “I am still digesting the full implication of the district court’s 116-page ruling. I continue to believe that restructuring the school funding formula and implementing education policy reforms is critical not only to getting more money into our classrooms but also improving student achievement. I will be working with legislative leadership to address the best path forward.”
Doll said regardless of the governor’s course of action, with the multi-million dollar revenue shortfalls facing the legislature, they will have to look at literally everything when it comes time to address the budget later this month.
“With education taking more than 50 percent of the budget, that definitely is going to be on the table, along with everything else,” Doll said. “I think we’ll have to take a long look at the tax plan of the governor’s. I don’t know if he’ll have any interest whatsoever to redo that, but I think everything has to be on the table.”
It isn’t likely that school funding will have to be addressed for several months, according to both Doll and Jennings, because more than likely, the state will appeal the court’s decision to the state supreme court, but it’s definitely something that needs to be on the radar, they said.
“Assuming an appeal’s made, it’s going to take, I would think, a bare minimum of 90 days, 120 days maybe, to get a supreme court decision. So we’re already through our session before that would become final. But I do think when we’re doing all this budget work, we need to keep this in the back of our minds that this is out there — that it’s a real possibility and plan accordingly,” Jennings said. “Not to would be kind of silly.”
USD 363 Superintendent Jean Rush said the district court’s decision affirms what local school officials believe, that education of Kansas students is vitally important.
“We also know that costs money,” Rush said. “We’ll just have to watch and see what this legislative session does. I’ll definitely be monitoring the situation.”
Steve Karlin, deputy superintendent of USD 457, called the last six years “the most financially difficult times in the last 25 years” for schools. Therefore, he said that it was nice to see a court ruling acknowledge that.
“There will likely be a lot of information and misinformation put out by a variety of groups, but it will be important for people to remember that both sides of this issue, including attorneys representing the State of Kansas, have put forth the best evidence available and the court has considered all of this information to come to this decision,” Karlin said. “Hopefully our leaders in Topeka will move forward and create a plan to restore school funding to an appropriate level, thereby allowing Kansas public schools to return to providing the high quality education that Kansas children and their families deserve.”