Capitol Update: ‘Tomorrow’s Johnson County workforce is being educated in classrooms all around the state today’

Rep. Melissa Rooker at a legislative forum earlier this year.
Rep. Melissa Rooker at a legislative forum earlier this year.

Each legislative session, we provide northeast Johnson County’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Melissa Rooker submits this week’s update:

We return to Topeka today for the second half of the regular session. The schedule calls for three weeks of committee hearings, followed by a week of floor action wrapping up the regular session on April 7. Veto Session is scheduled May 1-May 14.

A common question is whether the legislature can complete its work on time. With the delivery of the Supreme Court ‘s decision on Thursday, it is entirely possible for us to get the job done. Why the optimism? The court was very clear in its description of the deficiencies in our system and provided specific guideposts for determining adequacy.

For those not following closely, the state lost its appeal regarding adequacy of K-12 funding in Gannon vs. State of Kansas. The decision was unanimous and gives us until June 30, 2017 to provide an appropriate remedy. Here is a link to the Legislative Research summary of the decision.

Calling problems created by cuts totaling $511 million since 2009 “endemic, systemic and statewide,” the Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision which ruled the Block Grant unconstitutional because it froze in place a level of overall funding that had already been found to be unconstitutional. As a reminder, I predicted this when I voted “NO” on the Block Grant bill in 2015. I wrote about it in my newsletter at the time.

The Gannon ruling does not prescribe a specific remedy, but it does give appropriate guidance for the legislature. Our own Legislative Post Audit study from 2005 is heavily cited. Often opponents of increased funding for schools knock this study for analyzing “inputs” only, yet it actually took “outcomes” into account as well. The court spent a great deal of time providing a detailed validation of why both matter. Outcomes must be considered, but it does no good to neglect the cost of the programs, services and personnel necessary to achieve those desired outcomes. This decision recognizes that and instructs the legislature to ensure funding takes into account the actual costs of improving outcomes.

Several weeks ago, I introduced HB 2270, a draft school finance formula. The bill has since had a public hearing and received robust support from education stakeholders across the state. It restores the best components of the prior funding model, with some specific improvements. Describing the prior formula on page 11 of this decision, “The panel held its structure was basically sound but its implementation, e.g. actual funding of the formula, was not.”

HB 2270 directly addresses the findings of the court by increasing baseline funding over four years, fully funding all-day kindergarten, maintaining targeted At-Risk funding and restoring funding for 4 year old at-risk programs. HB 2270 provides budget certainty to the legislature as we do our job each year. It maintains the portions of the funding formula dealing with equalization of Local Option Budget (LOB) and Capital Outlay as those elements were the subject of the special session and found to be constitutional already.

In addition to HB 2270, several other proposals have been submitted and at least one more is rumored to be in the works. Watch for an attempt to expand school vouchers and other privatization measures, as well as a bid for unlimited local taxing authority, among the ideas floated.

Advocates for unlimited local taxing authority are suggesting that lack of support for this will be “anti-Johnson County.” I have always said that tomorrow’s Johnson County workforce is being educated in classrooms all around the state today. Ensuring that every child – regardless of where they live – receives a quality education will continue to be my primary mission.