After the Legislature increased the money spent on elementary and secondary education by $295 million this year and next, and raised Kansans’ income taxes by approximately $600 million, the thought was this would be a relatively uneventful 2018 session which starts in two months.
Well, that all went away last week.
Remember the Oct. 2 decision by the Kansas Supreme Court that the school finance bill is unconstitutional, apparently because it doesn’t send enough state money to school districts? The court didn’t say just how short it believed that $194 million this year and $100 million more in the next year is, but best guesses are at least $300 million more will be needed to satisfy the court.
And remember last week, when the state’s cadre of economic/financial/budget experts (the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group) predicted the state would receive $230 million more than expected in tax revenues in the next two fiscal years? There is, of course, that unseen asterisk over that estimate; it’s just a guess and might be more or less than $230 million and we’re not going to know just how much money will be received until probably next June when lawmakers hope to be long gone from the Capitol and campaigning for election or re-election.
That relatively simple upcoming session has evaporated. Spend more money on schools — even the expected, but not yet banked new money — and it probably isn’t enough to meet the court’s still undefined expectations for providing a suitable education for the state’s children with equal tax effort by the state’s school districts.
How much more money is enough? Don’t know.
But the court made clear more money is needed and failure to meet whatever amount the court finds adequate would make the black-robed clan “complicit” in an unconstitutional system. They’re apparently not going there.
So, what happens next session?
Well, it could be the Legislature will rewrite the school finance formula to spread what it last year considered a pretty good boost in funding some different way. There are a few little touch-ups that helped get this year’s plan passed that could be removed, but those little provisions are part of what got the K-12 formula passed in the first place. Hmmm.
Or the Legislature could put whatever unexpected money the revenue estimators predict will flow to the state into schools, under some formula the court likes. Maybe that’s enough, maybe not.
That means no new money for anything else, ranging from salaries for prison guards to new prisons to efforts to maintain the availability and quality of water, or health care for the poor or, well, whatever else you think is important.
And there’s the most controversial problem-solver, somehow redefining in the constitution the state’s obligation to finance schools and the court’s ability to determine whether enough is being spent on K-12 education from border to border.
That challenge to the Supreme Court’s authority to close schools by declaring the appropriation for K-12 unconstitutional is the big fight. Restricting the court’s authority to reject the Legislature’s school funding formula would require two-thirds votes in the House and Senate to forward a constitutional amendment to the voters who then would need to approve it. That’s a big job.
Remember the chants about the courts closing schools? They would get louder if a constitutional amendment to strip the court of its school-closing authority were put on the same election ballot on which Kansans elect statewide officials including the governor and members of the House of Representatives.
Or maybe, just maybe, someone figures out just how much schools spend on football and basketball and other non-classroom activities not strictly linked to reading and long division and suggests the state not contribute to those activities.
Nothing is getting simpler here, and the boosted revenue estimate isn’t going to solve this. We’ll see what the Legislature comes up with, won’t we.
Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report.