Shawnee Mission’s 2018 legislative platform takes aim at idea of removing ‘suitability’ provision from Kansas constitution

District lobbyist Stuart Little.
District lobbyist Stuart Little.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s October ruling in the long-running Gannon education finance case appears to have fundamentally shifted the Shawnee Mission School District’s priorities in the capitol.

The school board on Monday adopted a legislative platform for the 2018 session that includes a series of notable departures from years past. Among the most prominent is the addition of a item that explicitly opposes the idea of changing the Kansas constitution’s “suitable” provision. Republican leaders in the capitol, including Sen. Jim Denning of Overland Park, have floated the idea of reexamining the “suitable” provision, and perhaps amending the constitution to include more clear guidance about what it means.

The new platform item says the district will “oppose efforts to amend the Kansas Constitution to potentially reduce the state and local commitment to providing a ‘suitable’ education for all students in the State of Kansas.”

District lobbyist Stuart Little told the board at its Monday meeting that the inclusion of that item was a direct response to the idea being bandied about by legislative leaders.

“That is a reflection about some of the conversations that have taken place legislatively about how to address the Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon decision,” Little said. “Reasonable people can argue about what is suitable and how you fund suitability, but it’s in the constitution because the people put it there some 40 odd years ago, and we don’t want to see it taken out.”

The updated platform also includes a series of new portions that stress the school district’s support for the whole of the public K-12 system, a change in tenor from the final years of departed superintendent Jim Hinson’s tenure, when many education advocates saw the district’s position as being overly self-interested.

The platform includes a new opening paragraph, which lays out the importance of supporting every district in the state:

The Shawnee Mission School District will advocate for our students, teachers, and district. We recognize, however, that the school district boundaries are not the limits of our support. The Shawnee Mission School District joins other districts in supporting constitutionally suitable funding of public education to serve our kids, our community, our economy, and our state.

Little also noted that this was the first year since he began working with the district that the legislative platform did not include a call for an entirely new finance formula. He said the district recognizes that the weighting categories in the current formula have value to districts with a diverse mix of challenges and needs.

“All parts of the school finance formula have value for different districts, depending on where you are,” Little said. “Some of them benefit someone who needs high transportation, or high at risk, or high ELL. All of those components need to be supported.”

The 10 provisions of this year’s legislative platform are copied below:

  • 1. Support rigorous academic standards to prepare students to meet or exceed the Rose Standards in preparation for success in a globally competitive workforce. Advocate for federal, state and local funding that fulfills those standards through all the various formula components to support student achievement.
  • 2. Support a school finance formula that is financially sustainable, promotes efficiency, accountability, greater local funding flexibility, targets students at risk with supports for teachers and students, and ensures educational excellence for all students in Kansas.
  • 3. Support greater opportunities for communities to utilize operational and capital funds at the local level with equalization.
  • 4. Support special education services and funding at the required 92% of excess cost and mitigate the wide variance in reimbursements.
  • 5. Support increased funding and increased access to behavioral health services.
  • 6. Expand funding for early learning programs to recognize and address academic and social needs as quickly as possible for all kids, particularly children at-risk.
  • 7. Oppose unfunded mandates by local and state government.
  • 8. Oppose any current or future legislation that directs public funds to private education.
  • 9. Support maintaining non-partisan school board elections.
  • 10. Oppose efforts to amend the Kansas Constitution to potentially reduce the state and local commitment to providing a “suitable” education for all students in the State of Kansas.