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Dear Friend:

In the News
The last (albeit hesitating) breath of the Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit was issued Thursday morning. It was anticlimactic considering it confirmed what many of us have been saying for years – that the block grant school funding formula passed in 2015 has resulted in schools being underfunded to unconstitutional levels. The court set a June 30 deadline for passage of a new funding formula. While this decision is the last in a series, the court made clear it will keep an eye on the legislature to ensure we keep our commitment to Kansas students.
 
After the ruling, Senate President Susan Wagle laid down an ultimatum that she would create a committee to focus on school finance once a budget was passed. K-12 schools make up more than half the budget, and other than the budget, schools are the only constitutionally mandated spending. Creating a budget without knowing the cost of a new school finance formula doesn’t make sense.
 
In addition to the key points of unconstitutionality and the deadline, the decision also reminded legislators that if adequately funded, the previous formula was constitutional. Legislators and the courts have an ongoing tension over these decisions, where it is the court’s responsibility to determine if a damaged party deserves recourse, but does not hold the purse strings to deliver it. The legislative body, bound by frequent elections and a reluctance to cut programs to fund new ones or raise taxes to cover the costs of both, doesn’t appreciate financial suggestions by unelected judges.

Thus, the court did not provide a specific dollar figure, but mentioned studies and research which do. As a result, it’s looking like it will take a significant infusion of new money over the next few years to bring our schools back to constitutional compliance:

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The court’s funding itself has been deeply impacted by the budget crisis in recent years. They know we are between a rock and a hard place, so it is my belief they will allow some flexibility, so long as we meet the June 30 deadline and the plan would indeed get us back to constitutional muster. This is doable with plans already under consideration, many of which are loose interpretations of the pre-2015 plan. Nearly all states have funding formulas based on a set amount per pupil with formulas added on top to account for the increased cost of educating certain populations of students.
 
Unfortunately, the Senate has no plan. The Senate Education Committee hasn’t introduced or held hearings on any school finance plans, but the House has five plans which have been introduced AND had hearings. It looks like we will let the House lead the way. In that case, I will be working closely with my House colleagues to ensure we develop a good plan for all Kansas students.
 
As a reminder of previous Gannon decisions, the court broke apart the claim into a few sections with different goals:
  • The equity portion of Gannon came out March 2014 and noted serious inequities between property-rich districts and property-poor districts, which the legislature had to fix at that time. In an attempt to thwart the court cases, the 2015-16 legislature passed the block grant funding formula in less than a week. Most of us said at the time that block grants were unconstitutional, and finally two years later, we have been proven right.
  • Thursday’s decision said the formula also does not meet the constitutional requirement to provide an adequate education for Kansas students. The court also recognized the value of measuring outcomes, but tied that recognition to the cost of inputs required to achieve desired outcomes.
  • Earlier directives used the Rose Standards as a metric to determine adequacy. This decision stated Kansas is not meeting these goals for all Kansas students:
    • Communication/Basic Skills 
      • Rose Capacity 1: Sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;
    • Civic and Social Engagement
      • Rose Capacity 2: Sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the students to make informed choices;
      • Rose Capacity 3: Sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the students to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation;
    • Physical and Mental Health
      • Rose Capacity 4: Sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness;
      • Rose Capacity 5: Sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage;
    • Postsecondary and Career Preparation
      • Rose Capacity 6: Sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and
      • Rose Capacity 7: Sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.
We return to Topeka today and begin work in earnest to finally make serious course corrections for the future of our state.

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It is an honor to serve you in Topeka. Please do not hesitate to contact me about these or other legislative issues. 

Very truly yours,

John Skubal
Senator, 11th District
913-469-6641 (H)

Copyright © 2017, All rights reserved.


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