Supreme Court again strikes down education funding law

Finding a way to fund public education properly is going to be tough, said state Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan.

The Kansas Supreme Court again ruled on Monday the state’s education funding law is unconstitutional because it’s neither equitable nor adequate. The court has ruled against the state’s funding mechanism five times since March 2014.

The court gave lawmakers until April 30 to create a new funding plan, with the court expecting to rule on that plan by June 30.

Phillips said he believes appeasing the court will be difficult because he knows the Legislature will not want to raise taxes during an election year, and it’s likely lawmakers would need to override the governor’s veto.

On the bright side, Phillips said the tax law passed earlier this year has increased revenue about $76 million more than expected in the last three months.

“If that trend continues, there may be some additional money generated that we can add into public schools,” he said. “From my standpoint, education system is a fundamental priority of our state and we need to ensure our children are receiving a good education.”

Phillips said the 2012 tax cuts, which he voted against at the time, have set the state back years in balanced budgeting. He said the legislature needs to increase funding for public education, the state’s highway program and mental health issues.

“It had a dramatic impact on the amount of revenue the state has received,” Phillips said. “It’s a real difficult challenge right now to try to restore the proper balance in state government, given the fact that we have already restored taxes.

“I believe Kansans are reasonable people, and they understand that education is a priority but we have to balance that with the other needs of the state,” he added.

Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, said the issue is more than just money. She said she voted against the law earlier this year because she knew it was unconstitutional, citing the possibility of it being inequitable.

“I did expect this to be turned down,” she said. “(The bill) was disequalizing and unfair.”

Although she voted against it, Carlin said there were parts of the bill she liked, including new funding sources for certain issues in schools.

“It turned out to be a lot better than I expected it to be,” she said. “I’m pretty happy with our formula and we need to make the corrections the court pointed out.”

She said she hopes the legislative leadership puts a committee together soon to begin working on a solution before the lawmakers convene in January.

“We need to get started on a new plan now,” she said.

Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, said in June when the current education funding law was created that he didn’t expect the Supreme Court to approve it, noting he believed the law gave more money to richer school districts.

“I am not surprised,” he said. “I think the only thing I was surprised about is that the court usually rules on Fridays and they ruled on a Monday.”

Hawk said there are plenty of good parts of the funding formula, including increased funding for at-risk students, and it should not be completely scrapped when the Legislature begins to work on another funding plan.

“I don’t think all of that bill was bad,” he said. “(But) there were some glaring errors, and we waited until the last minute. The Legislature does a notoriously bad job when it waits until the last minute.”

Additionally, he said the law allowed schools to open and the court again gave the lawmakers time to come up with a new law in the spring.

“The bad is there is a tendency for the Legislature to procrastinate,” he said. “I’m praying that will not happen.”

Hawk said he also believes it will be tough to find additional money.

“It appears to me we need to come up with more dollars, and I think that will be tough during an election year,” he said. “But I think that’s our constitutional obligation.”

Dylan Lysen is the education reporter for the Manhattan Mercury. Follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen and on Facebook @DylanLysenNews.

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