school funding

(This story has been updated)  

The ink is barely dry on a deal to increase school spending by more than half a billion dollars, but Kansas is already headed for a fresh round of legal arguments.

School districts suing the state say the plan falls short in part because it will happen gradually over five years. They want the Kansas Supreme Court to make the state pay out $506 million more this fiscal year — on top of the $190 million boost the Legislature had already promised.

Kansas senators will return Monday to find a school finance fix waiting on their desks, hammered out in the House over the weekend.

The bill undoes an $80 million error inserted last-minute into this year’s school funding bill.

Kansas lawmakers voted last weekend to increase public school funding over the next half decade — the latest chapter in a long and winding court battle.

Lawmakers may not know for months whether a deal to pump half a billion dollars into schools goes far enough to end seven years of court battles over whether the state shortchanges Kansas children.

If it falls short, the Kansas Supreme Court could call them back to Topeka this summer with yet another ultimatum to send even more money to local districts.

Arm wrestling over a final deal on Kansas school spending begins in earnest Friday after the Senate settled on a figure that’s much lower than the House’s position.

The bill squeaked through after hours of discussion, winning the last vote necessary only after leaders forced lawmakers who initially abstained to weigh in.

Earlier, with the bill’s fate unclear, Republican leaders in the Senate issued stern direction to members of their party. Some were called into a closed-door meeting with Senate President Susan Wagle.

A push to elbow the judiciary out of school spending by rewording the Kansas Constitution cleared a legislative committee Wednesday.

Yet the effort likely won’t get a full House vote this week and could be doomed on a roll call.

It’ll need two-thirds support in both the House and Senate, something that may prove even harder after Democrats and moderate Republicans swept up more seats in the 2016 elections.

The Kansas House has had its say on school finance — putting the ball in the Senate’s court.

Republicans in the Kansas House couldn’t win enough votes Monday to increase school funding by hundreds of millions of dollars. Conservatives in their own party thought it was too much money, Democrats said it was too little.

House Majority Leader Don Hineman said legislative leaders would keep working toward a compromise and could come back with a fresh proposal on Tuesday.

“Hopefully we have a different outcome tomorrow,” he said late Monday, but added that the bill as written is “all we can afford at this point in time.”

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When a Texas A&M University professor recommended to Kansas lawmakers that they increase school by 44 percent, it got some Texas public education advocates wondering how her study would play out in the Lone Star State.

A report commissioned by the Kansas Legislature made clear just how much it might cost to improve student outcomes at public schools.

It’s so expensive, says a new lobbying group, that it threatens the quality of Kansas roads, health care and other government functions.

That fledgling outfit wants to amend the state constitution, freeing lawmakers to dodge steep hikes in school spending. External experts argue that added money would be needed to fulfill promises to graduate high school students better prepared for college or the workplace.

Now that Republican leaders have a report they commissioned on school funding, it’s not clear they’ll pursue its recommendations to spend more for better student performance.

Lawmakers continued digging into the numbers Monday and quizzed the study’s authors for the first time since the document was unveiled Friday.

(This story has been updated.)

Getting most Kansas schoolchildren doing well enough in math and reading to stay on track for college could cost an extra $2 billion a year — or roughly half what the state already spends on aid to local schools.

The figure comes from a report released Friday that lawmakers commissioned to help them judge the costs of getting better classroom results and to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order.

Even before releasing their results, consultants hired to guide Kansas lawmakers to a school funding plan that meets legal muster endured a grilling on Friday.

How, wondered lawmakers, would the consultants reach their conclusions on how much money school districts need to help students succeed academically? Why do the consultants seem to be excluding the overhead, non-classroom expenses of running schools from their study? And what about criticism of work they’d done in other states?

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Kansas school districts plan to use the proposed additional $600 million on personnel and programs for at-risk children.

The chief school finance official in Kansas — under fire from top Republican lawmakers, backed by scores of people in state education circles — on Friday avoided a suspension.

Dale Dennis, the state’s deputy education commissioner and a walking encyclopedia of Kansas school finance policy, came under attack over an audit that showed some school districts had long been getting money for buses beyond what lawmakers authorized.

The U.S. Department of Education has thrown its weight behind a Kansas school plan that aims for much higher rates of math and reading proficiency by 2030.

 

Initial feedback from the federal agency on Kansas’ 90-page blueprint for closing achievement gaps had been lackluster, forcing the state to revise it.

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At a meeting with state legislators in Garden City Saturday, citizens questioned the Supreme Court's school funding decision. The legislators said they accept the court’s decision, but will at least consider amending the Kansas state constitution.

The meeting was Garden City’s first Legislative Coffee of the new year and was attended by three local lawmakers: John Doll and John Wheeler, both of Garden City, and Steve Alford of Ulysses.

Kansas set lofty goals for its public schools in the next dozen years – but the Trump administration and independent experts suggest the state’s plan is as vague as it is ambitious.

The state’s plan lacks concrete details on closing academic gaps in its public schools, so much so that federal officials and outside reviewers question the state’s compliance with civil rights law that demands all children get fair learning opportunities.

Kansas colleges and universities could be facing steep state funding cuts in 2018.

A legislative committee discussing possibilities for balancing the state budget put the Regents on notice Wednesday, asking how an 18 percent cut would affect higher education.

“This system will look very different from the one we’ve enjoyed for a long time," answered Board of Regents President Blake Flanders.

Flanders says a cut that big would be a shock to the system.

“If we’re asked about cuts at about this level of cuts we always take it seriously," Flanders says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay out almost $7 billion this year through two safety-net programs that offer farmers some assistance during tough financial times.

While most of it goes to farmers who grow corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops, K-12 public schools also get a sliver of the total payout. That’s a benefit for often rural districts that are struggling due to state legislatures trimming back their cut of education funding.

color:#333333">Mark Buck can see some of the 314 turbines in Kansas’ largest wind farm from his office window in Medicine Lodge, where he is superintendent of the Barber County North School District.


The nearly $1 billion Flat Ridge project, built in two phases and owned in part by British Petroleum, spans 70,000 acres near the Oklahoma border in south-central Kansas. But unlike most other Kansas businesses, Flat Ridge pays no property taxes on its generators to fund local schools and other services.


Kansas lawmakers began groundwork Monday for their response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s order to fix school finance by this spring. The same day, a Hiawatha senator announced he will seek to curb the court’s powers through a constitutional amendment.

Kansas lawmakers soon will start work to determine their response to a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court that found K-12 public school funding unconstitutional.

Republicans and Democrats on a key legislative panel decided the matter is too urgent to wait until the 2018 legislative session starts in January.

They voted Monday to create an 11-member committee that will meet for three days before then. Its task will be to kick-start efforts that must be done by an April 30 deadline.

Last week the state lost again at the Kansas Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled that Kansas is underfunding its public schools, with repercussions for academically struggling children across the state — and especially for students and taxpayers who live in resource-poor school districts. 

Attorneys for the state and the Legislature faced a barrage of questions from skeptical Kansas Supreme Court justices Tuesday scrutinizing the Legislature’s school finance plan.

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Texas ranks 41st among states when it comes to child educational achievement. That’s nothing new; Texas has hovered near the bottom in this category for years.

The Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit is in its seventh year. In that time, the case has led to repeated rulings against the state for underfunding schools and responses by lawmakers in the form of appropriations bills.

Lawyers for Kansas and for dozens of school districts suing it filed briefs Friday at the Kansas Supreme Court, in what could be the final leg of a seven-year legal battle over school finance.

The state argues legislation passed early this month ratchets up annual state aid to schools by nearly $300 million over the next two years, and that should be enough to end the Gannon v. Kansas case once and for all. 

The Kansas legislative session may be over, but lawmakers still aren't sure whether their work has ended. They're waiting to see whether the new school funding system they put in place will satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court.

The court previously said education spending was inadequate. In response, lawmakers approved $300 million in new funding over two years and a new method to distribute the money.

Mark Tallman, with the Kansas Association of School Boards, says members of the group like the new funding formula, but they still have concerns.

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Texas Panhandle school districts are pleading with the state for more funding.

As The Amarillo Globe News reports, a wind farm, as well as several oil and natural gas wells in Roberts County, Texas has given independent school districts in Miami and Bushland a robust tax base to draw from for paying for teachers and buildings, but the tax roll was cut in half this last year as oil and gas prices decreased and a state aid provision districts rely on to guard against economic downturns expires in September.

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