As many of you now know, the Kansas Supreme Court has signed off on the latest school funding plan, ensuring students will be headed back to class this fall. The Court's stamp of approval was the final step toward ending a contentious battle over how money was divided up among public schools. After Justices ruled the original plan was unconstitutional, schools were faced with an increasing possibility that they would not have any money when the new fiscal year started at the beginning of July.
The Court rejected lawmaker’s initial funding bill just days before lawmakers adjourned for the year, forcing Gov. Sam Brownback to call them back into a special session. With just a week to go before schools started running out of money, legislators overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan, compromise plan. Brownback put his signature on the plan on Monday, June 27th. Once the bill became law, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and attorneys for the plaintiffs asked the Court to approve it.
In their ruling, the Justices noted that the new plan, known as H.B. 2001, returns to a school funding formula previously approved by the Court in early stages of the case. By fully funding that formula in 2017, the new law falls back into compliance with the state's constitutional requirement for equitable funding. So, I guess it is official now that the Legislature has satisfied the Constitution’s requirement for equitable school funding.
Apparently, the lawmakers did generate the $38 million that was necessary to appease the Supreme Court's mandate needed to help alleviate the inadequacy across the State. Some of it was by shifting some money around from district to district, by selling an earmarked Bioscience plan and by raiding some other State funds.
I guess the good news is that school will be open from the courts approval. The bad news is that USD223 is one of the districts taking a hit. As of now, we will have $135,000 less than we had for this school year. One reason why we had such a decrease was because we had a slight drop in enrollment over the last couple of years. But, the main reason is that we are actually one of the wealthier districts in Kansas this year because our assessed valuation did not drop as much as other districts in the State did. The other district’s valuation drop was largely because of the huge decrease in gas and oil prices across the state and nation. At least now, we can now begin working on the budget for the 2016-17 school year. The USD223 School Board has been very fiscally responsible for years so we are in a position to move forward and still provide a top notch quality education for Hanover and Linn Schools.
But the legal fight isn’t over in Topeka. The state Supreme Court said it will now turn its attention to the possibly much more expensive portion of the school finance litigation. The Court must now address whether the funding formula is “adequate”. This last issue was about “equality” of funding across the state. That phase of the lawsuit had been put on hold until the equity portion could be resolved. A three-judge panel has repeatedly ruled that the state has underfunded public education. So, even though we will be funded for this school year - we are unsure of what the legislators will decide for public school funding for the 2017-18 school year and beyond.