With hundreds of teachers from across the state crowded in the wings, the Kansas House and Senate engaged in some after-dark political brinksmanship that resulted in the passage of a new K-12 funding plan.
Supporters of the bill hope the its eventual injection of $500 million per year in additional public school funding will satisfy the state Supreme Court and provide students with an adequate education. Some conservative Republicans, however, argued that the bill was unaffordable, and that the legislature won’t be able to allocate all the money required. On the other side of the political spectrum, some Democrats said the level of additional funding likely would not be high enough to pass court muster.
We asked members of the Shawnee Mission area’s delegation for their reaction to the bill and Saturday’s dramatic maneuverings. Here’s what they had to say:
Sen. Barbara Bollier (Republican, District 7)
I have always been a pro-education legislator and continue to be so. Crafting and passing legislation is a process that is much more complicated than it seems. This year, both the House and Senate attempted to meet the Supreme Court’s charge in Gannon differently. The Court ruled last year’s school funding bill inadequate and not equitable and stated that just adding money would not satisfy the Court. They required us to have another study done, and that study showed that money was being spent in the wrong places. The review by Dr. Levin validated the study. He stated clearly that to look at the individual school line items as “winners or losers” was the wrong approach. He told us that those who appeared to be “losers” were actually taking money away from those who should comparatively have more. I trusted the experts.
Both chambers fixed the equity issues identically. The Senate worked this entire session with numerous parties to find data-based outcomes-proven policy changes to improve outcomes with those students who are not at grade level or not graduating. We increased money for Parents as Teachers while lowering the school’s match for funds; added funding for JAG, which is a highly successful program used in some schools; put funds in to start an Attachment Biobehavioral Catchup program, which has been hugely successful in Delaware and stabilizes cortisol levels in children affected by adverse childhood experiences (ACES); added ACT and ACT Works testing for every student their junior year; removed high and low enrollment weighting and instead added the money to the base, which gave every school that same amount of money but increased the amount each other weighting gets, while keeping some low enrollment weighting; increased money to Pre-K and Tiny K; and limited the amount of bonding money the state would be responsible for as school districts continue to build their infrastructures. With our Senate lawyer we confirmed every step of the way that changing these policy positions clearly enhanced student opportunity to succeed. The House, on the other hand, added money; that is all.
I am confident that the Supreme Court will ensure that the money needed for adequacy is in place, but I am not sure they will comment on the policy. The Senate bill has well-researched data-based policy; the bill we passed does not. It essentially continues the same school funding formula that District 7 has asked to have changed for more than 30 years. I will continue to stand firmly in the unpopular place of changing policy rather than only adding money. Yes, it takes money to implement the policy. But it also takes money in the right places, and the Senate position made an excellent start on those policy changes.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton (Republican, District 19
I am always happy to cast a vote in favor of adding more funding to our schools, as I did on Saturday morning. I am also the only Johnson County House Republican to cast votes in favor of amendments that strengthened the constitutionality of the bill, both for increased funding to the Base State Aid Per Pupil, as well as an increase to Special Education funding.
We have heard quite a bit about how a hypothetical student in the 8th grade has never attended constitutionality funded schools. I am the mother of an 8th-grade Shawnee Mission student, and as I have watched her and her classmates grow, this funding fight galvanizes me in a deeply personal way.
When the opportunity to provide better funding for these children arises, I always say yes. And I will continue to do so, should the legislature need to reconvene for a special session.
Rep. Tom Cox (Republican, District 17)
I am proud of the work both the House and the Senate did towards properly providing for education in the state of Kansas. Is the funding plan perfect? No, but it is good and we cannot let perfect be the enemy of good when it comes to governing. We provided a plan that phases in $500 million of new K-12 spending, between this year and last, in the final year we will be spending $822 million more per year on K-12 spending than we did in FY17. Some felt it wasn’t enough, but I will point out this was the max amount we could allocate without forcing another tax increase or significant budget cuts elsewhere. It still sweeps the highway fund (something we MUST fix going forward), delays repayment of KPERs money borrowed and assumes a lot of other economic growth factors we can’t control just to fund. Now we will wait to see what the court says.”
Rep. Cindy Holscher (Democrat, District 16)
This past week I read a post on Facebook that went as follows: “Decades ago, when the rich paid their fair share in taxes, we built the interstate system, developed strong hospitals in our communities, had schools that were the envy of the world, and even sent a man to the moon.”
For many years now, special interest groups worked to get “their people” elected to ensure tax breaks were given to the wealthiest in our society. The Legislature in Kansas went even further with the Brownback experiment in 2012, exempting approximately 330,000 business owners (many of them wealthy) from paying taxes. As a result, our revenue nearly vanished and severe cuts were made to services, including our public schools. If it weren’t for the courts through the system of checks and balances in our government, our Executive and Legislative branches would continue to cheat our education system without being called out.
This past week (in the LAST days of the regular session) the Legislature finally dug in to addressing the court ruling that showed once again, we are drastically underfunding our schools (likely somewhere between $550-900 million). The plan that ended up being adopted is on the lower end (approximately $500 million) of what has been recommended for funding, so there is certainly the chance it will not be ruled as “adequate” in the court’s review. Additionally, the Senate drug out the proceedings until after midnight of our session deadline.
But here’s the part that is really bothersome. While the money that was put in the school funding plan likely won’t require a tax increase, we had to fight for the amount just to get it ALLOCATED to schools. That’s right, the revenue is there, but advocates had to do everything short of begging to get the amount over $500 million. (As a reminder, due to a wave of newly elected Democrat and moderate legislators in 2016, we were able to reverse some of the most ruinous parts of the Brownback experiment. Since then, our revenue has bounced back and we have even had surpluses; therefore a tax hike shouldn’t be necessary for the school funding plan).
The disdain some of these remaining Brownback/Koch allies in our state government have for public education is disheartening. It was embarrassing to hear colleagues on the House and Senate floors complain that we were “just throwing money at a problem.” No one should view educating our children as a problem. Additionally, the lack of respect for our teachers has been shameful.
Unfortunately, until we elect more legislators who truly value eduction, we will continue to see ridiculous attempts to prevent adequate funding for our public schools. And then, again, every year, we will continue to have to fight and plead for funding our education system.
Oh, and remember how the school funding plan shouldn’t require a tax hike because of our increased revenues? If the Brownback/Koch allies have their way, they will “fix” that. Prior to handling the education bill on Saturday, the Senate passed a tax cut for some of the state’s higher wage earners. And guess for how much? That’s right: about $500 million.
Rep. Nancy Lusk (Democrat, District 22)
I wish to commend my fellow Democrats and the Republican moderates in the House for our successful alliance. With a two-prong approach, we set up what was probably the best possible outcome for the K-12 school finance bill the at this stage of the game, despite some heavy-handed and hostile-to-public-education actions by leadership in the Senate. Despite the measure falling very short of the full rehabilitation of K-12 education necessary after a decade of underfunding – totaling over $5.6 billion – I am feeling positive for what was accomplished.
In effect, we pulled off a “good cop, bad cop” scenario. “Good cop, bad cop” refers to the police interrogation technique in which one officer plays a sympathetic attitude while another adopts a firm and uncompromising approach.
The short-term strategy executed primarily by the House moderate Republicans: get a presentable school finance compromise plan passed out to meet the Kansas Supreme Court’s deadline to move the process along (and don’t jeopardize the fragility of the compromise with any amendments, even though, as a group, the moderates recognize the funding level was not enough).
The long-term strategy executed by the House Democrats: make a firm stand that the proposed level of K-12 funding in the House bill was too low. This was done in support of the validity of:
- the likely judgement by the Kansas Supreme Court that the increase is insufficient
- the Kansas State Board of Education’s judgement on the funding level
- findings in the recent Taylor/WestEd cost-function school finance study and other studies commissioned by the legislature that gave evidence that:
1.) money matters – there is a definite positive return of higher academic achievement on investments made in our schools
2.) Kansas schools are well run with an average cost efficiency score of 95.6%
Our stand was pulled off by first offering amendments to increase the base aid funding and Special Education funding (which failed to pass but put our support for more money on the record), and then by giving up just enough votes to allow the measure’s passage, but not enough to be an endorsement.
If we Democrats had given all our votes for the deficient funding level, it would have hindered the credibility of arguments in the next round, which will likely be a battle against an extreme constitutional amendment proposal to strip the state supreme court of its oversight role of providing checks and balances in such cases.
At the time I wasn’t certain, but now that the drama has played out I will concede that the funding level was probably as high as it could have been at the time given the kamikaze approach taken by the Senate President and other conservatives to completely kill the all the work that had been done on the school finance bill this session. The down to the wire defiance they exhibited against fulfilling the state’s responsibility to K-12 education and meeting the court’s deadline that we have known about for six months was irresponsible.
Like the repeal of the failed tax policy last year, we used a “good cop, bad cop” approach to a good end. Though different, the efforts of Democrats and moderate Republicans worked in tandem towards the same mutual goal, great public schools in Kansas, and not in opposition.
Rep. Jarrod Ousley (Democrat, District 24)
When debating the house bill, one of my major concerns was that it did not provide enough to meet constitutional adequacy. In reviewing funding data, the amounts recommended by available studies, the lower court, and the amount recommended by the State Board of Education, are all well above the numbers in the House bill. The bill did not meet inflation costs, nor did it put us close to the funding districts received ten years ago, until the end of the five year plan. We brought multiple amendments to improve the bill: to increase overall funding, to meet statutory special education funding requirements, and to permit SMSD to apply to participate in a pilot plan to bring counselors to our district. All of these amendments were voted down. 21 districts lost money under this formula. Because of our obligation to uphold the Kansas constitution, I could not support a plan I believe in good faith violates constitutional adequacy standards. Should the Supreme Court find this plan unconstitutional, the responsibility for that rests solely with the legislature for not doing what needed to be done when we had the opportunity to do so.
Rep. Brett Parker (Democrat, District 29)
It has been nearly a decade since Kansas schools were adequately funded. Students entering high school next fall have never been given the education that the constitution says they deserve. This is the problem I ran to solve. As we wrap up my second year in Topeka, it appears the solution will have to wait again. I voted no on the bill because I don’t want to see Kansas students complete the entirety of their K-12 education in underfunded schools. I voted no because I want to avoid the cost, both financially and in reputation, that a special legislative session will bring to Kansas. While I understand and respect the intentions of many of my colleagues who voted for this plan, we were tasked with constitutionally funding schools. Most (on both sides of the vote) agree that we failed in that task.
That we failed in that task is most frustrating when you think of what could have been. 2016 saw a wave of pro public education legislators of both parties get elected. I, like most others, expected this group of 70-80 House members to craft a bipartisan plan to satisfy the courts and finally give our children the education they deserve. Rather than seeking the input and support of that bipartisan majority, the authors of this plan spoke against amendments to fully fund our schools or even just to fully fund special education. Rather than seeking bipartisan compromise, they courted votes from the far right.
While disappointed that we likely came up short once more, I remain committed as ever to working with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to get this right. The courts may quickly give us another chance to fix this in a special session this summer. If they do, let us hope that the bipartisan coalition you all elected will finally flex its muscles and learn how to lead.
Sen. Pat Pettey (Democrat, District 6)
I voted for sub for SB423 .I do not believe it has enough money in it, but it is a good faith effort. The original senate bill had additional money for early childhood initiatives that I very much support and hope that we may be able to address in the budget process. Our school districts should be reassured since Dr. Taylor in her report to the legislature, recognized them as being highly efficient with the resources they have. Our teachers , the most important part of a quality education, need to be valued and money makes a difference. Money is the only way to move Kansas teacher pay from being ranked 42nd in the country.
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (Republican, District 10)
The bill that just passed to fund education was fiscally irresponsible and severely lacking in any type of accountability measures. It may not require a tax increase in an election year, but the taxpayers better hang onto their wallet next year, because to maintain this level of funding it will demand a huge tax increase next legislative session.
The way school funding is measured will always be subjective in nature because there are so many variables involved. There will always be some who say it is not enough, including members who serve on the court, and even though it is more than $4 billion a year and more than half of the state’s general revenues. But it is the people outside of the K-12 education system who must pay for it. (Those employed in the K-12 system are receiving the government funding, so they are not paying for it.) My fear is we are fast reaching a system that is not sustainable, if we are not there already.
Rep. Randy Powell (Republican, District 30)
Solely adding an additional $2 billion dollars over the next five years with no changes in priorities equates to insanity. We continue to follow the misconception that additional spending equates to an increase in achievement, ignoring the fact that less than 30 percent of high school students are ready for college in four core subjects.
Student-based budgeting that focuses on student performance, gives financial incentives for schools that meet outcome goals, and allows students an escape from chronically low-performing schools — this would be a step in the right direction that would address the quality of our students’ education.
In addition, while we continue to not take a stand as a legislature, allowing the court demand more money be invested in a broken system, exercising policy-making power it does not have, solely reserved for our legislative body, we will not end the insanity that is now entering its fifth decade.
Lastly, we seem to ignore our constituents, the very ones we’re sent to represent. Seven out of ten of our constituents favor student-focused spending.
Our Kansas K-12 education system is broken, and yesterday’s vote to provide additional funding, while not addressing the real issue of student achievement, is naive, short-sighted, and poor stewardship of the hard-earned dollars Kansans entrust to us.
Rep. Melissa Rooker (Republican, District 25)
Saturday night after midnight, the legislature finally completed the regular session by passing an education bill. While I do not think the bill is perfect (no legislation ever truly is), I do think we have provided a good-faith effort to provide a remedy the court will find constitutional. The total funding package between 2018-2023 provides our schools over $823 million in new funding. We passed a portion of that last year, adding over $522 million in this year’s new legislation to be distributed over the next five years. The bill adds new money in the base amount, additional funding for Special Education, adds some enhanced reporting and accountability measures, and addressed the equity problems identified by the court. The new provisions build on the foundation laid in last year’s bill which directed funding to at-risk and ELL students, provided state funding for all-day kindergarten, additional funding for early childhood programs and provided funds for teacher mentoring/ professional development programs. The funding level was calculated according to direction provided in all of the Gannon opinions – we looked back to the amount agreed to in the Montoy case and adjusted the total spending for inflation. Some of my colleagues believe that the base amount per pupil should be adjusted for inflation rather than total spending, so there is a difference of opinion about the funding level. It is important to note that the increases are phased in over time, allowing for the funding to come from existing resources rather than requiring a tax increase. With court dates already set, we will know in June if we got the job done right this time.
Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (Democrat, District 21)
This past week was a perfect example of how the conservative Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate have failed to do their jobs and represent the people of Kansas. School finance has been on our radar since last October and yet leadership in the House and the Senate oversaw a process that only brought this issue before the full House and Senate in the last week of the session.
The Senate leadership was particularly insistent on underfunding our public schools and creating a legislative process that forced the House and the Senate to make critical decisions and votes on education funding literally minutes before the Legislature was to come to an official close at midnight on Saturday night. It was a spectacular misuse of the political process, an extraordinary example of inept leadership and a continuation of the conservatives support of their ultra-conservative political agenda over the best interests of the people of Kansas.
I submitted a bill this session that would stagger Senate elections so that half the Senate would be elected every two years instead of all of them being elected every four years. This bill would make at least half of the Senate up for review before the voters every TWO years and would go a long way to keep what happened Saturday night from happening again. Not surprisingly the Conservative Republican leadership buried this bill in Committee and most certainly did not let it come to the floor for a debate. My bill was about making BOTH chambers of the Legislature more accountable to the people of Kansas and the conservative leadership in both the House and Senate wanted NO part of that.
I am cautiously relieved that we were able to get a school finance bill out of the Legislature early Sunday morning although I am not convinced it will pass judicial review by the Kansas Supreme Court. I am most certainly disappointed and angry about the process and the lack of leadership that caused us to have to make these critical decisions in the last minutes of the last day of the Session.
I want to thank my constituents and the hundred of teachers in the Capitol Saturday night for their support of me, for our public schools and for our children. It is indeed a privilege and a pleasure to represent the people of the 21st District.
We also asked local education advocacy and political action groups for their takes on the bill.
Here’s what we heard from those that have responded so far. (The Northeast Johnson County Conservatives were among the groups we invited to send in a statement, but we haven’t heard from them yet):
GameOn for Kansas Schools
Members of Game On were in the Capitol as Saturday night turned into Sunday morning and a school funding bill which had passed the House finally passed the Senate. We are grateful that the legislature passed a bill which includes a significant infusion of funding for our schools and the children they serve, and we are grateful for those legislators who continue to work hard to improve education funding in Kansas. We also feel that the actions of the legislature over the past several months proved why judicial intervention continues to be necessary for Kansas school funding. The latest cost study commissioned by the legislature confirmed what many of us have been saying for years-our schools are efficient and underfunded. Yet, even when confronted with new data, too many of our legislators, including Johnson County’s own Jim Denning, refused to acknowledge that reality and continued to work against finding a solution. They wasted critical time and the energy of both members of the legislature and education advocates as they pushed for a constitutional amendment to remove the courts’ ability to rule on the adequacy of school funding. In the final days of the session, political games and strong arm tactics increased. Senators were told they would lose committee chairmanships if they voted against the wishes of Senate leadership. As much as we would like to say such threats don’t matter, they actually do. We continue to be dismayed with the anti-teacher and anti-public-school-funding rhetoric we heard as the Senate filibustered Saturday night. We believe the bill that passed had the highest funding that could pass the legislature this year, and we believe there is a possibility that the bill will pass constitutional muster. We remain concerned, however, with the 5-year rollout and the amount of new funding that will be consumed by inflation and rising costs during those five years, and we are glad the Kansas Supreme Court will look at that carefully. We believe it is essential that a body that can focus on the needs of Kansas students without worrying about the dynamics of Kansas politics have the role of deciding upon whether the legislature’s plan lives up to the standards set forth in the Kansas Constitution. If the court rules favorably on the new plan, we will look forward to seeing the impact of constitutionally adequate funding for the first time since 2009. If the court rules we are still a little short, we hope our legislature remembers that this is about meeting the needs of Kansas children and properly investing in a critical economic driver in our state.
The MainStream Coalition is grateful for all the hard work done by education advocates, both activists and legislators, during this Legislative Session around securing additional funding for Kansas public schools. The resulting bill, Sub for SB 423, is a hard fought, hard won compromise that many think may still not satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court. That will come. Today, we recognize that the bill passed each chamber by the minimum required, despite the Herculean efforts of anti-education opponents.
Those efforts by Kansas Senate Leadership, as represented by Sen. Susan Wagle and Sen. Jim Denning, were childish and reprehensible. At MainStream, we fight for good governance, strong public schools, healthy communities, and sustainable fiscal policy. Senate Leadership stalled voting, played games of brinksmanship, bullied Senate and House members, and worked overtime to further weaken Kansas revenue in the face of the Supreme Court’s decision. This is not transparent government. This did not support public education. And this did not represent sound, sustainable fiscal policy.
Despite the grandstanding by Senate Leadership, 63 members of the Kansas House of Representatives had the will to force the issue, and the Senate bucked their leaders to move the bill on to the Governor. In August and November of this year, the entire Kansas House of Representatives is up for election. Let’s all work to send some help for those 63 legislators.
Education First Shawnee Mission
The needs of our students took a backseat to political showmanship last night as we watched the House and Senate gamble with school finance. Shawnee Mission legislators Rep. Randy Powell and Sen. Jim Denning showed their total disdain for public education and clear interest in school privatization through their votes and actions throughout the process. We are extremely disappointed that they are not advocating for the children in their districts.
There are serious concerns as to whether this bill will meet constitutional levels of adequacy and equity, especially given the inadequate amount of SPED funding. Even with over $500 million in incremental funding, the total base-aid-per student will come nowhere close to 2008 levels. While the compromise bill is far from perfect, Education First Shawnee Mission is grateful for the legislators that attempted a bipartisan effort on behalf of our children. – Megan Peters, Education First Shawnee Mission