Schools for Fair Funding will file notice with the Kansas Legislature later this month that they intend to proceed with a suit against the state for inadequate funding of Kansas schools. Then they must wait 120 days to officially file against the state.
In February of this year, the Kansas Supreme Court had denied their petition to reopen the 2005 school finance case. At that time, the extent of education cutbacks was still unknown. With the state budget set, they will have details for their claim that Kansas is not adequately funding schools.
The 2005 Ryan Montoy et al. v. State of Kansas education funding case resulted in the Kansas Supreme Court ruling in 2006 that the state had to invest an additional $1 billion dollars in K-12 education. As a result, the Legislature phased in an additional $600 million in funding for K-12 schools to comply with the court order. Base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) rose to $4400, a number that is also a multiplier for other benefits.
However, the economic downturn in 2008, along with Kansas being a balanced-budget state, wiped out much of that funding gain. BSAPP stands at $4012 for now. Superintendents who hired staff last year on the previous BSAPP only to see their funding cut several times know this current level will not hold as state tax revenues continue to come in short.
Out of 293 current USDs, 72 have joined the Schools for Fair Funding effort. They represent over 164,000 students or about half of all students in Kansas. If their appeal to restore about $303 million is successful, it would benefit all Kansas schools.
To be included in the Schools For Fair Funding case, many of the districts used local property tax money. However, according to lead attorney John Robb, four districts raised external money: Goddard, Caldwell, Claflin, and Canton-Galva.
Much of that increased educational funding went to improve school teacher salaries and increase school programs to help Kansas students meet higher testing standards. The increase in teacher pay kept Kansas from sliding toward the bottom of the 50 states. But data just released at the June State Board of Education showed average base salary for teachers dropped to $34,907 from $35,615 the previous year.
Advocates sometimes point to increased scores, indicating that for each $1 million added to funding, scores go up a certain amount. I personally do not find that convincing because scores went up in some in states that did not increase state funding. In addition, increased scores in reading and math were bought at the terrible price of narrowing the curriculum for test prep in just those subjects, with scores remaining low in science, etc. If we could buy better student performance by adding more money, you we could easily calculate what it would take to make 100 percent of students proficient, and no sane educator believes we can achieve that NCLB requirement by 2014. In spite of using double-blocking and constant test-preparation, many states are approaching a leveling off in scores.
Yet this Kansas funding shortfall does threaten education quality. With schools combining students into fewer and larger classes, scores (as well as real education quality) are going to drop, especially at elementary levels where personal attention yields big reading gains. Young, well-trained and dedicated teachers who can no longer find jobs are being lost as future teachers when they enter other fields.
Many legislators on both sides of the aisle—who negotiated mightily to hold the line on further cuts and who managed to pass a one percent temporary sales tax hike—do not look kindly on this lawsuit. But legislative and public opinion are not at issue. The Legislature is not free to fund a State Constitutionally-mandated service at just any level it wants.
As a previous President might say: It all depends on what you mean by “adequate.”
And the definition of “adequate” may again be in the hands of Kansas courts.