The Vice-President for Advocacy for the Kansas Association of School Boards, Mark Tallman, wrote on his blog last week about the funding that the Legislature originally promised to schools that they haven’t gotten in the last several years.
“What, frankly, prompted this interest is because the recent transportation audit, of school district transportation funding, raised some questions about whether the state department had been following the statute in distributing transportation aid and there were some concerns that state law wasn’t being followed. What we wanted to look at is, what other programs are there where the Legislature itself has chosen not to follow its own law.”
The short answer is it happens a lot. Tallman’s blog post said that the Kansas Legislature has underfunded school finance formulas in state law by $867 million since 2009, according to data prepared by the Kansas Legislative Research Department. The biggest portion of that shortfall from original statute is in the area of Special Education.
“Since, really, the Montoy school finance case, there has been a law that says the state should provide 92 percent of what is called the ‘excess cost’ of Special Education,” said Tallman. “Basically, the cost of delivering Special Education services beyond what we would spend on Special Ed kids just to give them regular services.”
Actual funding has been below that level every year since 2011, for a total shortfall of $334 million. There have been previous shortfalls in Local Option Budget state aid and Capital Outlay state aid that have both been remedied, because the courts required it for the equity portion of school finance litigation. Also falling short of original statute are professional development, mentor teacher program funding and even the state’s reimbursement of school lunch expenses. Statute has said that the state would reimburse six cents for every lunch.
“In recent years, the Legislature’s only provided 4.4 cents,” said Tallman. “That gap just means either parents have to pay more, or the district has to subsidize their food service operations from their general fund.”
There is an argument to be made that even setting aside base state aid per pupil, which the blog post did not address, that the reason school finance litigation hasn’t stopped is because the Legislature hasn’t kept its previous promises.
“Most people agree that the biggest reason that we are in the Gannon case now is because the Legislature did not follow through with what it said it was going to do to settle the Montoy case,” said Tallman. “The Montoy case was in 2005 and to resolve that, the Legislature passed a lot of these bills, like what is our formula going to be for Capital Outlay? What are we going to do for Special Education? The plaintiffs brought the Gannon case forward largely
because the Legislature had stopped doing what it said it was going to do.”
The Legislature can decide to ignore its own laws and prorate funding, but the question is, if they’re not going to pay for it, why keep the laws on the books?