Local legislators, advocates react to Brownback’s State of the State and budget proposal

Game On for Public Schools parents at the state capitol the night of Gov. Brownback's State of the State address. Photo courtesy Heather Ousley.
Game On for Public Schools parents at the state capitol the night of Gov. Brownback’s State of the State address. Photo courtesy Heather Ousley.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback predicted in his State of the State address last Thursday that his budget proposal for the coming fiscal years would provoke dissent from a broad swath of constituencies — and he was right. From the conservative Americans for Prosperity to elected Democrats, derision to Brownback’s speech and plan has been swift and pointed.

This weekend, Northeast Johnson County elected officials and education advocates shared their thoughts on the governor’s proposals, including his suggestion that the school finance formula be rewritten and his assertion that the state’s budget crisis is being fueled by education spending.

Here’s what they had to say:

Rep. Melissa Rooker (R), District 25:

Many felt that the State of the State address on Thursday night was light on details and lacking in new ideas, however I was floored by a new storyline that emerged. The governor blamed the state’s fiscal crisis on the most vulnerable students in our state. By blaming the increase on the formula, and 100,000 students he describes as not actually existing, he points the finger of blame towards children living in poverty, children with special needs, and the other categories of students who qualify for extra weightings in the formula that create those “extra” students.

He blamed the formula for 40 years of litigation, though it has only existed since 1992.

He cited a phrase from the court ruling that said, “One cannot classify the school financing structure as reliably constitutionally sound” but left out the rest of that sentence, and the context it in which it appears. It reads, “…because the legislature has tied its constitutional duty to the unenforceable precept, yet parochial illusion, of local control and local funding choices as one linchpin for the assurance of constitutionally adequate funding.” In other words, the state has shirked its duty to adequately fund K-12 education, which requires our districts to rely on local funds (LOB) to fill in for state effort instead of providing additional resources as originally intended.

The governor called for a two-year time-out while we rewrite the funding formula, using block grants to provide funding to our schools in the meantime. The details will matter. Based on the initial budget presentation made on Friday, it is not clear if districts will be held harmless or will receive less money. It does appear that new obligations will be placed on districts to fund things locally that the state has been funding, and that certain categories of aid will disappear. I cannot judge yet whether the Shawnee Mission School District will be helped or hurt by this plan and await more details.

I recognize that our district has long sought revisions to the funding formula, and stand ready to work on solutions that improve funding for our schools. However, I must again caution that the court has ruled the problem is the amount of money being allocated, rather than the manner in which it is allocated. Unless and until our leadership acknowledges that basic problem, I am unclear how we move towards an appropriate solution.

The text of the speech can be found here.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley (D), District 24:

The Governor’s remarks at the State of the State were disappointing and disheartening. There is ample evidence that our primary crises is a revenue crises. His proposals attacked two institutions valued and protected by our State Constitution and by Kansans: an independent judiciary and public education. The one bright spot was the many supporters of public education who came to the Capitol dressed in “red for public ed.” These supporters cheered the legislators who are working to protect our schools from additional funding cuts, as well as the Kansas Supreme Court Justices as they left the House. Their silence for the Governor as he exited, spoke volumes

Judith Deedy, Chair, Game On for Kansas Schools:

We were disappointed to see Governor Brownback blame the state’s budget problems on public education costs rather than the tax cuts. We were also disappointed about his desire to eliminate the school funding formula. We see that as avoidance of the current court decision on school funding. Rather than “cutting” education funding, he’s proposing to use block grants and revamp the formula to reduce the amount of money we spend on schools. That’s cutting education funding.

Stephanie Clayton (R), District 21:

It is important to note that the State of the State address and the Governor’s budget are a starting point for negotiations with the legislature. I have great concerns about the proposal to re-write the school finance formula, the desire to politicize the judiciary, and the wish to control the outcome of municipal and school board elections. I am pleased to see that the Governor proposed a slowing down of the income tax plan, a proposal that I made back in June of 2014. As always, the key for the legislature is to proceed with great caution in the months to come. We owe it to our constituents to legislate responsibly. Stephanie Clayton