Capitol Update: Rep. Melissa Rooker predicts ‘wild ride to the finish’ to meet April 30 deadline on K-12 funding case

Rep. Melissa Rooker.

Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Melissa Rooker, Rep. Tom Cox and Sen. John Skubal are submitting updates this week. Here’s Rep. Rooker’s filing:

Good morning. We are on Turnaround, a brief break from the legislative session. We adjourned on Thursday and will reconvene this Wednesday to begin the second half of our session. The break is necessary to allow legislative staff time to literally turn things around so the bills passed out of their chamber of origin can be taken up in the opposite chamber. Last week, the House worked 62 bills while the Senate worked 34.

Many of our colleagues were able to return home after we adjourned on Thursday, however the House K-12 Budget Committee joined with the Senate Education Committee to hold a briefing with the consultants conducting the cost-function analysis of Kansas K-12 education spending. Over the course of a four-hour presentation, the methodology being used in this study was outlined by the two key consultants.

Although we had the opportunity to ask questions, this was a frustrating meeting. The interaction was tightly controlled by the Senate Education committee chair. We each were allowed to ask one question, but with no opportunity to ask any follow-up questions it was difficult to get clarity on a number of key points. Some very important questions have not yet been answered to my satisfaction.

The study is designed to evaluate the cost involved with ensuring the outcomes expected of our students can be met. I remain unclear what benchmarks will be used as the expected outcome goals, and over what time frame. This is an important point. The lead consultant, Dr. Lori Taylor, began her presentation with a vigorous defense of her work in a Texas study conducted in 2005. In that study, she concluded that less than $1 million more would be all that was required for Texas schools to meet the benchmarks that existed at that time. In fact, all Texas schools met them that year. If meeting the status quo is the target, then it stands to reason that no more money is needed to achieve that which is currently being achieved.

In our case, the Gannon court decision is directing the state to improve student achievement outcomes. On Friday, I did not feel the consultants clearly identified the performance benchmarks that have been chosen for the study, nor the timeline for achieving those benchmarks. Where the bar is set for the purpose of this study will make all the difference in the results we receive. The set of costs included in the study versus those costs excluded from consideration will also affect the findings.

A second meeting was held on Saturday in Topeka for education stakeholders to provide their input. I participated in a long-scheduled legislative forum at Corinth Library and was unable to make the Topeka meeting. It appeared to be a more interactive discussion than our Friday meeting and I was disappointed to miss out.

We will receive the results of this study on March 15. Our regular session is scheduled to end on April 6. Legal briefs are due to the court by April 30. It is worth noting that the Attorney General requested that his office receive a signed legislative remedy by March 1. Complicating matters, the new consensus revenue estimates will not be available until April 20. Although these deadlines are out of alignment, I remain confident that we will complete the task of providing an appropriate remedy to the court. That said, I’m resting up these next few days to be ready for a wild ride to the finish!