School funding deemed inadequate

A district court panel has ruled that Kansas isn’t spending enough money on its public schools to provide a suitable education for every child.

The ruling was made last Tuesday by a three-member judicial panel of the Shawnee County District Court. The panel didn’t set a specific figure for what is “adequate” but said the evidence suggests it should be at least $548 million more a year, or $4,654 per student in base aid — and possibly much higher.

The state is expected to appeal the Shawnee County District Court panel’s decision to the Kansas Supreme Court.

In Kansas, the current base state aid per pupil is $3,852. In 1992, when the base state aid per pupil system was created, the state allocated school district’s $3,600 per pupil.

In their 116-page ruling, the judges said that the state’s current financing system for public education isn’t “reasonably calculated.” The judges were also critical of lawmakers for shifting the school funding burden from the state to the local level.

The judges ruled that, at the minimum, the state’s base state aid per pupil should be about $4,654.

Gov. Sam Brownback said he is still “digesting the full implication” of the 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,” Brownback said.

Kansas is currently facing a predicted $279 million budget shortfall by July, with an additional $436 million shortfall to close by July 2016.

In March, the Supreme Court unanimously ordered the state to allocate $130 million into school funding to fix an unconstitutional inequality of resources for poorer school districts as part of the Gannon lawsuit.

That money went largely to tax relief, helping school districts lower their local mill levies this budget season.

Marcus Baltzell, director of communication for the Kansas National Education Association, said that Tuesday’s ruling “simply validates the current reality of the public schools in our state.”

“Kansas public schools are not adequately funded,” Baltzell said. “Educators who make up KNEA have consistently called for a responsible tax policy and full constitutional funding of Kansas public schools.”

KNEA members believe that Legislature must increase school funding to meet the requirements of the ruling. Members also hoping for additional changes, including:

* The restoration of funds lost due to the recession and legislatively-enacted tax cuts.

* The adoption of an inflation measure appropriate to public education on which to base annual increases in funding.

* Annual adjustments in funding levels to reflect changes in educational costs over time and allow districts to recruit and retain competent, caring and qualified teachers and school leaders and meet operating costs.

* Public transparency in the movement of funds by local school districts from one budget category to another.

* Funding increases that allow school districts to increase teacher compensation to the national average over a period of not more than five years.

* The distribution of funds to provide flexibility to use funding increases to meet the needs of local school districts through local budget development and collective bargaining.

* Full funding of the excess costs of special education.

* Full funding of early childhood and all-day kindergarten programs.

Jackson Heights Superintendent Adrianne Walsh said that the ruling “reaffirmed everything Kansas educators have been saying about fairness and inadequate school funding in recent years.”

“The panel noted that the obligation to adequately fund education is imposed by the constitution and, therefore, cannot be ignored,” Walsh said. “The panel’s opinion stated that there should be a fail-safe assurance that a minimum amount of funds are provided in the event that voluntary local taxation falls short of providing those funds with the Local Option Budget.  Honoring this recommendation would be extremely important with a district like USD 335 where raising one mill only generates $17,000 while raising one mill in a nearby district would generate approximately $250,000.”

Walsh said she was also pleased to see in the ruling that state of Kansas Retirement System for Public Employees or federal funds in the BSAPP cannot be used to offset the amount of funding required by the state to provide a constitutionally adequate education.

“It is my hope that this ruling compels the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Brownback to make public education a priority in Kansas and to continue to fund capital outlay and LOB according to the law along with continuing to increase BSAPP to align with the demands of educating today’s youth,” she said. “Education is an extremely important tool for our state’s economy and future.”

Comments from other county superintendents were unavailable at press time. 

The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141

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