Education Week - October 11, 2017 - 11
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
Ruling Sends Kansas Back to Square One on K-12 Funding
State's highest court again
strikes down aid formula
By Daarel Burnette II
After years of frustrating and politically contentious wrangling over school funding, Kansas
policymakers find themselves back at the drawing board in the wake of that state's supreme
court ruling that struck down the latest K-12
funding method as unconstitutional because
it still fails to assure an "adequate" and "equitable" public education for the state's nearly
Though the court gave state lawmakers
until the middle of next year to come up with
a new system, that's likely to do little to cool
the tensions the fight has set off between state
and local officials, or the bad blood between
legislators and the judges they say are overstepping their mandate.
"This ruling shows clear disrespect for
the legislative process and puts the rest of
state government and programs in jeopardy,"
stated Republican Senate leaders Susan
Wagle, Jeff Longbine, and Jim Denning in
response to the Oct. 2 ruling. "As promised,
Senate Republicans remain committed to
providing every Kansas student with an exceptional education; however, raising taxes
to fund this unrealistic demand is not going
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in a
statement called the ruling "another regrettable chapter in the never-ending cycle of
litigation over Kansas school funding. The
court should not substitute its decision for
that of the legislature."
But the ruling brought elation amongst the
state's public school officials and their lawyers.
"It's another in a line of great court decisions
for Kansas kids," said John Robb, one of the
plaintiff's lawyers. "The court has recognized
multiple times that Kansas kids are not getting what the constitution guarantees them."
In its fifth ruling regarding the case, the
state's high court rejected the latest formula
that included a $293 million spending increase this fiscal year for K-12 in an attempt
to satisfy the court's demand. The court also
said expanding local tax revenue leads to a
public school system of haves and have nots.
Lawyers for the four districts that originally sued the state in the Gannon v. Kansas case said districts should be given more
flexibility in spending and that nothing less
than $893 million over the next two years-a
number based on a 2016 ruling by the state's
high court - would satisfy the constitutional
requirement or help districts close achievement gaps. The state is spending close to
$4.3 billion on K-12 in the current fiscal year.
"While we stay the issuance of today's
mandate through June 30, 2018, after that
date we will not allow ourselves to be placed
in the position of being complicit actors in
the continuing deprivation of a constitutionally adequate and equitable education
owed to hundreds of thousands of Kansas
schoolchildren," the judges said in the tersely
The justices asked lawmakers to present
something before April 30 of next year so the
court will have time before the next school
year commences to determine whether the
funding formula passes muster.
The funding formula, approved in the
waning days of the legislature's session
this year, more closely dictated how schools
should spend their money, cracked down
on academically wayward schools, and expanded the use of all-day kindergarten and
vouchers. The state's attorney general said
the spending methods would dramatically
improve educational outcomes and that the
court should be patient to see how effective
the funding formula was.
Almost a quarter of the state's students don't
meet basic reading and writing standards.
The legislature, already dealing with a
series of spending cuts after a years-long
revenue shortfall, will now have to figure
out how to raise more money to spend on
its public schools-and do so facing a deadline in the 2018 election year. Legislators
have been reluctant to raise taxes, though
a growing chorus of teachers and parents
in the state have pushed for more spending
The ruling also will likely amp up the ongoing and closely watched battle between the
state's Republican-dominated legislature and
the appointed supreme court over who should
decide how to spend money on public schools
and how to close an achievement gap between
the state's wealthier, white students and its
poor and minority students.
The state's legislature has said in the past
that the court is out of its lane in telling legislatures how to spend. As in previous rulings, the Oct. 2 decision found the funding
formula unconstitutional, but did not tell the
state how much to spend or what to spend
the money on. It also did not give many clues
as to how the state should work to improve
A political effort to unseat the judges and
change the language of the state's constitution
in 2016 failed.
Visit the STATE EDWATCH blog, which tracks
news and trends on this issue.
Could Democrats, Trump
Team Up on K-12 Issues?
Hemmed in by a Republicancontrolled Congress and President
Donald Trump, the top Democrats
in the Senate and House have been
working to parry GOP advances in
general. But when it comes to education, could Democrats cut deals with
Trump on at least a few issues?
The two parties have shown some
willingness to find common ground
in other areas. Prime example: the
deal Senate Minority Leader Chuck
Schumer and House Minority Leader
Nancy Pelosi struck with Trump last
month to raise the debt ceiling and
keep the federal government running
through the rest of 2017.
The move stunned GOP leadership. But if Trump is willing to work
publicly in that way with leaders of a
party he frequently blasts, are there
any deals to be had on education and
Based on conversations with some
in the K-12 world, along with news
developments, here are a few areas
where there could be enough common
ground, in theory, for Democrats to
strike some kind of deal with Trump:
* The Dream Act, to protect those
now covered by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
program, which provides protections
for those brought to the U.S. illegally
* Early child care, specifically
expanding benefits for child-care
costs. Trump's daughter and adviser,
Ivanka Trump, has expressed interest in the issue.
* School infrastructure spending.
* Anti-bullying protections. First
lady Melania Trump has expressed
an interest in the issue.
* Career and technical education.
* Issues related to higher education like Pell Grants, but not necessarily reauthorizing the Higher Education Act itself.
For several of those issues, Democrats have introduced relevant legislation, and a few have Republican
Room to 'Agree'
At least in principle, some top
Democrats voice a willingness to
offer an olive branch.
"At a time when many people
across the country are still struggling, Republicans and Democrats
in Congress should work together
to find solutions that strengthen the
middle class and help students, parents, and [college loan] borrowers get
ahead," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.,
the top Democrat on the Senate edu-
By Andrew Ujifusa
cation committee, said in a statement.
"I believe there's a lot we should be
able to agree on, including addressing
the rising costs of high-quality child
care and a comprehensive approach
to making college more affordable, accessible, and accountable."
A deal on higher education, a relatively high-profile education issue,
might be close to impossible, especially since U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has riled Democrats
for her shift away from the Obama administration's work on college loans
and student debt, as well as revoking
Obama-era guidance on Title IX.
Still, some kind of accord on the
Dream Act is likely the Democrats'
best bet to work with Trump and other
Republicans, said Charles Barone, the
policy director at Democrats for Education Reform. Barone said there's even
a decent chance a deal on the Dream
Act and DACA could be reached before Christmas. (Congress has about
five months until Trump has said he
will end DACA protections. Trump has
President Donald Trump
speaks to, from left, Senate
Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell, R-Ky., Senate
Minority Leader Chuck
Schumer, D-N.Y., and House
Minority Leader Nancy
Pelosi, D-Calif. The recent
debt-ceiling deal saw Trump
and Democratic leaders
on the same side of a
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