At a legislative forum Thursday night, area lawmakers with positions on the state’s education committees offered starkly different views on the meaning of the Supreme Court’s new K-12 education funding ruling.
Just eight hours after the justices issued their opinion in the Gannon case, House Education Committee members Melissa Rooker of Fairway and Sean Tarwater of Stillwater, and Senate Education Committee members Molly Baumgardner of Louisburg and Dinah Sykes of Lenexa addressed a crowd of nearly 100 at a forum hosted by Stand Up Blue Valley and Johnson County Educators. The forum, held at the Blue Valley School District’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies, had been on the books for several weeks, but became of particular interest when word came out Thursday morning that the court would at last be issuing its ruling.
Baumgardner, who chairs the Senate committee, said her main takeaway from the ruling was that the block grant approach to school funding would certainly be going away. But she also said she believed the court was steering the legislature from a return to a formula similar to the one that had been in place prior to the passage of the block grant bill two years ago.
Rooker, who sits on the K-12 finance committee as well as the education committee, expressed a competing view, saying the ruling suggested that something close to the prior funding approach was, in fact, a good solution to the adequacy issue. Rooker has forwarded a funding bill — HB 2270 — that is considered among the most viable plans to meet the court’s requirements.
“I know the knock is that it looks a lot like the old formula,” she said of the bill. “What I would tell you is that the years of research I’ve engaged in tells us that nearly all 50 states have a formula that looks like our old school funding formula. Baseline funding, plus added categories of weighting to meet the individual needs of students.”
Freshman Rep. Sean Tarwater had a different interpretation of the decision. He said he did not believe the legislature necessarily had to put more money into K-12 education because the justices did not include any information about how much money would be required to meet the adequacy requirement. He said he was concerned that a resurrection of a formula similar to the previous one or the injection of more money into K-12 education would punish Johnson County taxpayers, who could see their dollars allocated to less affluent school districts throughout the state.
“It’s my fear that it’s going to be Johnson County funding the rest of the state again,” he said.
But Rooker said the thrust of the justice’s argument was clear, and that its references to the history of cuts to funding and their impact on the performance of at-risk students made the case that more funding was needed.
“This opinion spends a lot of time focusing on the fact that money in fact, does matter,” she said. “…”The point of the Gannon lawsuits is that our schools have been so busy pulling back on the programs and services they can provide, we are failing to properly prepare our students to meet the needs of the 21st century world…”