NEJC legislators, education advocates respond to school funding ruling

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Though it is by no means definitive since it will almost certainly be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court by the state, yesterday’s ruling from a three-judge panel in Shawnee County calling the state’s current K-12 funding “inadequate from any rational perspective” is sure to cast a long shadow over discussions about how to deal with the coming budget crisis.

Here’s what a number of local legislators and education advocates had to say about the ruling:

Rep. Barbara Bollier, District 21, incoming member of House Education Budget Committee:

I was not surprised by the ruling. How could the court rule we are constitutional in our funding when we are BELOW what was required in 2006 by the Montoy decision? Our system of government is brilliantly designed to have checks and balances, and this school funding issue is but one example of the effectiveness of our system of government. Now the state will move on to the appeals process!

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, District 19:

It is clearly stated on page 95 of the Decision that the school funding deficit is a “political choice” made by the legislators who chose “to use otherwise available state financial resources elsewhere or not at all…”. The time has come for the Kansas Legislature to return to a practical, measured, and stable form of governance, which includes fulfilling our constitutional obligations to provide a suitable education for our children, and to balance our budget.

Kathy Cook, board member, Kansas Families for Education:

The Kansas legislature has a choice to make: Carry on the proud tradition of great public schools for ALL our children, or continue down a path of unsustainable tax cuts for a few. The school finance formula is not broken.  Our tax system is broken. The Kansas Legislature should not react hastily to this decision, but instead wait until the appeal process is complete or any action taken could be nullified by the Supreme Court.

Judith Deedy, chair, Game On for Kansas Schools:

This is not a decision by an activist court.  This is a common sense decision that states what every Game On advocate understands-our schools are underfunded, and our legislature has recently taken to removing funding, relabeling funding, and shifting responsibility for funding down to the local level when what they need to be doing is figuring out how to meet the needs of Kansas students.  We agree with the decision and hope the legislature will increase funding.  We are concerned, however, that this will be used to call for judicial “reform” and “structural changes” to the school funding formula which will result in less funding.  The case will also be appealed, so we understand that no new funding is likely until after the Kansas Supreme Court issues its decision.

Rep. Melissa Rooker, District 25:

The decision by the Shawnee District Court three judge panel came as no surprise to me. Each successive ruling in the long legal battle has affirmed, and reaffirmed, the constitutional duty the state has to adequately fund our public school system. The opinion makes clear that schools have lost nearly 10% of their buying power due to inflation just since 2009 and are having difficulty meeting their mission to prepare our students for college and career. Of additional significance for Johnson county is the court’s opinion that LOB funds cannot be counted on to supplant state effort, and when the state co-opted those funds to “count” as state aid, local districts were deprived of their local control over those funds. Missing from calls to rewrite the formula is recognition that our current total spending has once again been declared inadequate and unconstitutional. While there may well be room to improve upon the current formula, the obligation to provide additional funds has been upheld. Those who seek to reduce the education footprint on the state budget in order to pay for tax cuts will push for policy reforms and formulaic changes, but it is abundantly clear that in order to truly serve the best interests of our children, we need to deal with economic reality.

Sen. Kay Wolf, District 7:

The ruling handed down today by the district court did not come as a surprise to me. I anticipated the court would likely make a determination that current state educational funding levels were inadequate based on current laws and studies that were enacted and previously commissioned by the state legislature.

There is little doubt that the decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court. This will certainly allow time for the legislature to discuss potential options to address the issue. Most likely one of those will be a review and potential re-write of the school funding formula. I support this initiative as my belief is the formula as currently written is not favorable for Johnson County schools. However, my decision to support or not support any proposed legislation would only be after input from constituents, educational leaders and organizations.

The courts decision creates an opportunity for the legislature to take a thorough hard look at education in our state. Quality schools are a top priority for families in our district. Our children and grandchildren deserve a long term solution this time, not just a quick fix. I look forward to working with the legislature to ensure the state’s investment in our schools reflect the value we place on education.