Even though the Kansas Legislature and the Kansas Supreme Court are not finished with the latest school finance litigation, the Kansas Association of School Boards saw progress in 2017 and is hoping for more in the coming year.
“They restored many elements, most elements of the previous finance law, which I think was generally supported by the public education community,” said KASB Vice President for Advocacy, Mark Tallman. “If nothing else, we returned to a formula that does sort of adjust itself to changes in district needs and things like that.”
The Legislature also passed the largest increase in school funding since 2009.
“The Court did not find that enough, or they did not find that the Legislature had proved that is enough to ultimately solve the problem,” said Tallman. “We certainly think that the dollars put in is a very good start and for the first time, we have seen districts begin to significantly restore some of the positions that have been cut, to be able to kind of get salaries back to being more competitive and to look ahead to programs we can put into place.”
For all the formality of the conflict, there is also the personal element of people feeling disrespected for their work on this by the decisions made by the other party.
“Some legislators we talked to do feel that the Court didn’t give them enough deference for what they had done,” said Tallman. “Last year, I remember, while this was going forward, a lot of legislators saying, well, you know, we’ll just have to see what they say. This is what we think we can do, and if its not enough, we’ll come back. I do think there was a sense that some legislators felt that perhaps the Court did not recognize, even if they weren’t fully satisfied, I think they were maybe looking for more credit than they got in some ways.”
KASB has spent its time attempting to show the state where it is statistically in relation to other states and to where it should be related to inflation while acknowledging that the Legislature has given effort to starting in the right direction, but it’s going to take time to get to where funding needs to be.
“When you look at total K-12 education funding compared to total Kansas personal income, which is basically all that the taxpayers have to spend, theoretically, we are still several hundred million dollars below just the 25-year average, not where we were at the high point.”
According to KASB, from 1990 to 2016, Kansas total school funding averaged 4.66 percent of total personal income of Kansas residents. Basic operating budgets – general fund, local option budgets and special education aid – averaged 3.5 percent of personal income. Over the period, education attainment improved.
However, total K-12 funding was 4.47 percent of personal income in 2017, or $617 million below the 26-year average.