Tallman: Court telling lawmakers to find right education funding level

The Kansas Supreme Court has not given the state a dollar amount for public education funding because that’s not its job, said Mark Tallman, lobbyist and spokesman for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

“Fortunately, or unfortunately, the court is still not telling them the number,” he said in a Tuesday interview. “Many legislators don’t want a number told, but if they don’t get a number how do they decide? That’s their dilemma.”

The state’s highest court ruled on Monday that the Kansas Legislature’s education funding formula is unconstitutional, noting its funding is not adequate or equitable among school districts. The ruling was the fifth time since 2014 the court ruled against the state’s funding plan.

Tallman said one of the reasons the court keeps ruling against the state is because legislators don’t provide enough evidence for why the funding plan is better than previous plans the court has ruled to be constitutional.

Additionally, Tallman speculated the court does not give a specific dollar figure because it’s not within the court’s job description.

“I think the court is trying to honor the Legislature’s job to fund schools,” he said. “The Legislature has always said ‘It’s not your job to tell us how much.’ I think the court is trying to be very careful to say ‘We’re not doing that. You need to have a process of determining not what you want to spend, not how much is available, but how much it will cost to meet the state education goals.’”

Although the court’s ruling puts school funding up in the air again, Tallman said good things are happening in Kansas public education.

He said the funding formula may be unconstitutional at the moment, but when it was signed into law many schools saw an increase in funding, including Manhattan-Ogden schools, which received about $3 million extra this year.

The law was sed to add $293 million over two years to the state’s total $4 billion education budget.

The state’s education department is also leading its Kansans Can vision, which focuses on the best ways to educate all students with the goal of leading the world in success of each student.

One of the plan’s new programs includes seven schools using a new education format to make sure students are studying what they want to and what will better prepare them for careers after school.

While the plan is good, Tallman said part of the reason a new vision may be needed is because of a lack of state funding.

“I think everyone in the education community would agree we aren’t where we want to be,” Tallman said. “There are too many kids who are not on the path to be successful… Everyone is committed to changing that, but we happen to believe part of that is having resources to do it.

“But part of it is certainly how you spend those resources,” he continued. “(The vision) is about when it’s a question of if we spend more money to do the same thing but that thing isn’t working, we shouldn’t expect different results. If we can think about a different way to help certain kids, then we need to try that.”

Tallman said some school districts, although they were not selected as sites to lead the school-redesign program, are already trying to do things differently to achieve the education department’s goals.

“Schools have embraced the new vision, goals and measurements,” he said.

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

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