TOPEKA — The consultant appearing before the Kansas Legislature on Friday to shape answers to a Kansas Supreme Court order striking down the state’s unconstitutional system of funding education was criticized during a Texas school finance case for research and analysis viewed as “seriously flawed” and “not credible.”
The Texas Supreme Court and a Texas district court issued rulings that raised doubts about the cost study authored by Lori Taylor, a Texas A&M University professor who had been employed by the Texas Legislature to help defend the state in a lawsuit challenging constitutionality of the Texas education financing system.
“The Taylor study is flawed in a number of respects,” a Travis County District Court judge said in an order. “Dr. Taylor’s numbers simply are not credible on their face.”
The Texas Supreme Court noted the lower court accepted the plaintiffs’ cost study and “found the Taylor study flawed in several respects.”
Taylor reported on behalf of the defense that achieving a 55-percent pass rate on a Texas standardized test would require at least $560 million annually. The plaintiffs’ experts said such proficiency necessitated a minimum increase of $1.6 billion.
The 2018 Legislature is developing a response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found unconstitutional the system relied upon to deliver state aid to K-12 public school districts. It’s possible the Legislature might end up adding hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the public school budget.
In December, Taylor was selected by leaders of the Republican-led House and Senate to provide guidance under contracts allocating $485,000 among consultants, economists and attorneys versed in issues of school finance.
“It doesn’t seem like we’re hiring experts. What we’re doing is buying experts,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.
Taylor is scheduled to speak at the Capitol to House and Senate education committee members about what structure and level of funding would be needed to meet minimum adequacy requirements set by Supreme Court justices.
“We’ve heard she’s a credible researcher,” said Mark Tallman, who represents the Kansas Association of School Boards.
Tallman said the Legislature was tasked with adopting a school funding package and reasoned justification for their plan. The Legislature’s decisions must be based on more than politics, he said, and Taylor could be valuable in that process.
“I’ve always been skeptical of an out-of-state expert telling Kansas how to fund their schools,” said House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita.
Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, said perspectives documented in the Texas case reflected an effort by adversaries to sway the courts. She said former state Sen. Jeff King, the attorney hired to represent the Senate in the school-finance matter, helped identify Taylor and that she had faith in King and Taylor.
“I have confidence that Jeff King had no ill intent,” Bollier said. “He worked very hard.”
King said he made clear to Taylor during the vetting process that “her results are her results. Her work is her work. Neither I nor anyone else she will deal with will ever try to dictate what these results will be.”
Taylor’s study in 2004 for the Texas Legislature suggested the state on average spent more than was necessary to deliver an adequate education to Texas students.
At the direction of legislative leaders, the Texas district court said, Taylor omitted analysis confirming that raising the success rate of students on a standardized test required additional revenue. The district court said Taylor’s assumptions about improving test scores was “likely flawed and leads to the lower predictions of the costs of achieving various performance standards.”
“Dr. Taylor incorrectly assumes that all the districts’ funding is fungible, that a district’s revenue dollars can be freely allocated according to the efficiency dictates of the model,” the district court judge said.