The State Supreme Court fired the latest shot in Kansas’ war over school funding Thursday, when judges again ruled current funding unconstitutional.
The latest ruling in Gannon v. Kansas gives the State Legislature until June 30 to draft a new formula in order to keep public school doors open for the 2017-18 school year.
“That was on the drawing board. That was our intention anyway,” Sen. Jeff Longbine (R-Emporia) said Saturday at the Legislative Coffee in Junction City.
Though the Legislature already intended to draft a formula, that doesn’t mean it will be simple.
The ruling states that funding must be equitable, and it must meet or exceed adequacy standards put forward by the Kentucky Supreme Court decision in Rose v. Council for Better Educ., Inc., which has served as the framework for school funding in a number of states since it was handed down in 1989.
The Gannon ruling also states that the new formula must pay particular attention to the bottom 25 percent of performing students.
“Those students in that group are severely under-performing, particularly in math and reading, so the court tells us that we need to develop a formula that will address that and bring those students up closer to what the Rose standards would be,” Longbine said.
The ruling did not specify an amount by which schools should be funded, or specific ways the formula should address funding shortfalls, so, in those areas, legislators will be working from a blank slate.
“That’s gonna be a real challenge,” Longbine said. “I think even if we had the school (administrators and employees) write the formula, how do you get to that bottom 25 percent? Because there’s a lot of variables often in that student population group that schools can’t really affect.”
Longbine cited cultural issues, such as Emporia’s high Hispanic population, where culture dictates that males go to work at age 16 to help support the family. Outside of culture, other things schools can’t address — such as home life and poverty level — also affect student performance.
Despite those challenges, Longbine said he anticipates the legislature to begin working to establish the formula when they return to the Statehouse Monday, starting with House Bill 2270, which was introduced Feb. 3 by the K-12 Education Budget Committee. The bill has several provisions meant to establish an adequate and equitable formula, set to be enacted for school year 2018-2019, if the bill passes.
“I would anticipate that when we get back next week, that’s probably gonna be the focus of where we start writing a new formula,” Longbine said. “It’s very much like the old formula, but it modernizes, particularly, the weightings.”
In Longbine’s view, modernization of weightings is important because of the drastic changes in school districts since the state shifted to block grant funding. In that time, 79 percent of Kansas school districts have lost students, meaning that — under the old formula — all those districts would lose money.
“From a political standpoint, it is really hard to pass a new school finance formula when 79 percent of your districts are gonna lose money,” Longbine said. “You’ve got 79 percent of your legislators that go ‘woah, I don’t want to vote for that. All my schools are losing money.’”
In order to pass a bill that meets the Gannon ruling’s standards, Longbine is of the mind that the Legislature will have to think outside the box.
“I think we’ve gotta be really careful when we talk about going back to the old formula or base student aid with weightings until we see what that shift looks like,” he said.