The graph below may be a bit difficult to view. Our hopes of receiving additional dollars for the classroom will not come to pass. Smoky Valley is one of just a handful of districts to actually lose spending power for the 2014-15 school year.
Legislative leaders pointed fingers in the wake of Friday's Kansas Supreme Courtdecision on school finance, with each blaming the other party for the litigation.
Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans offered few plans for complying with the court's order and articulated vastly different interpretations of how compliance might look.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, blamed his presumptive opponent in the November election, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, for the court's finding that state funding for K-12 was unconstitutionally unequal.
Brownback, while acknowledging the inequalities, pinned the blame on his Democratic predecessor, Mark Parkinson.
"We have this equity problem created by a prior administration," Brownback said. "But we will work to address that, and we will work to fix it."
The parameters of that legislative fix were hazy, at best, Friday.
Democratic leaders interpreted the court's decision as a call to immediately fund two equalization pots: one for capital outlay and another for local property taxes.
They viewed that appropriation, estimated at $129 million under current law, as something of a down payment on further school funding increases likely to be ordered when a lower court addresses the "adequacy" question that the Supreme Court remanded back to it.
But Brownback was flanked by Republican House and Senate leaders and Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who described the decision as a sea change that wipes out all prior school finance precedent because it focused on student outcomes rather than mandating a firm dollar amount to be appropriated.
Even on the equalization piece, Republican leaders said the high court left the door open for legislators to provide equity in other ways that could cost less than funding the current formula, or cost nothing at all.
"We're still analyzing the actual language in this case as to what 'equitable' means," said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, adding that attorneys will be looking at the decision throughout the weekend. "There will be a lot of different ways to solve it. Different weightings that can be moved around, we can put new money in the formula — I'm sure we will — but we have a lot of options on the table the way this decision came down."
House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, also said it was time to evaluate options.
"We now know what the decision is," Merrick said. "We know what the parameters are. Now we can start working on solutions and everything's wide open."
Brownback said the Legislature's options don't include revising the income tax cuts passed the last two sessions.
"We need this tax structure so we can grow," Brownback said.
Davis said the state's school funding woes could have been solved if not for the "reckless tax plan," but he stopped short Friday of saying the cuts should be repealed.
Davis said he and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, offered a plan to increase school funding at the beginning of the 2012 session, before the tax cuts.
"Gov. Brownback rejected it," Davis said. "There is a stark difference between the governor and I. I have consistently supported investing in our schools and provided a real solution to do just that."
The plan Hensley and Davis unveiled at Loman Hill Elementary School in 2012 would have cut into state reserves to incrementally increase base state aid per pupil to a rate mandated by the Kansas Supreme Court in an earlier school finance decision.
It also would have provided modest property tax relief.
Brownback and the Legislature's Republican leaders ignored it in favor of much larger income tax cuts.
When asked Friday if those cuts will need to be repealed, Davis said "there are going to be plans offered," but declined to give specifics.
When asked about previous Democratic governors’ failure to meet the court-mandated, per-pupil spending, Davis said there was a plan in place but the Great Recession scuttled it.
Hensley said "the Legislature is going to have to come to grips at some point with what the ramifications were of those tax cuts," but the full reckoning is likely to be delayed.
Hensley said the Supreme Court's decision to send the question of adequate base state aid per pupil back to the lower court to apply a different standard will likely lead to another appeal by the state after the court applies that standard.
He said the court's finding that the state hasn’t met its constitutional duty to provide equity among wealthy and less wealthy districts — and it must do so by July 1 — should provide clarity to what has been a thorny debate.
"Those are some of the most difficult issues for the Legislature to reach some compromise and consensus on," Hensley said. "They historically have been. I hope that we can resolve these inequities in order to help poorer school districts in Kansas."
Hensley, who teaches in Topeka Unified School District 501, said that district would be among those that benefit, along with such districts as Wichita, Emporia and Garden City.
Hensley said the state would be able to cover the $129 million this year with its ending balances if the Legislature signs off.
Davis said he "sincerely hopes" there will be enough Republican votes to pay the equalization before the July 1 deadline.
"I think the people of Kansas want the Legislature to stop playing games with this, they want the governor to stop making excuses, and they want to fund our schools," Davis said.
House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, said there is broad agreement within his party and throughout the state with the philosophy of educational equality. The challenge, he said, is achieving it.
"That's our job," Vickrey said. "We will be working on how to get there."
Looking at Kansas school funding in terms of seven “building blocks.”
First, the state provides a “base” or foundation for general operating costs, using a base budget per pupil amount multiplied by weighted enrollment, and funded by a uniform statewide 20 mill property level and state aid.
Second, the state adds funding for a portion of special education costs.
Third, local school districts are allowed to enhance their operating budgets with a local option budget (LOB), financed mostly by local property taxes. However, LOB state aid is provided to over 80 percent of districts to help “equalize” property taxes.
Fourth, school districts receive federal funds for special education and other programs, and for school meals for low income students.
Fifth, the state provides aid to help make bond and interest payments for school construction projects in many districts. This aid has the same purpose as LOB state aid: to somewhat “equalize” the tax burden of constructing school buildings.
Sixth, the state pays the “employer’s contribution” toward the retirement benefits of school employees in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
Finally, districts may raise local revenues for building and construction costs; and charge fees for meals, textbooks, activities and other local purposes allowed by state law . The total of these seven areas equals total school district expenditures.
Watch this page for the most recent district talk about the budget challenges we are currently facing in USD #400.
SPECIAL PUBLIC HEARING - Auditorium
February 10, 2014 - 7:00 p.m.
1. Approval of Special Board Meeting Agenda
2. Approval to Pay Monthly Bills
3. Proposal to Close Marquette Elementary School
4. Patron Testimony
5. Consider Adoption of Resolution to Close a Building
TOPEKA (AP) — The bitter legal battle in Kansas over education spending is garnering national attention, thanks to the defiant tone struck by conservative Republican leaders as they wait for a state Supreme Court ruling on whether public schools are entitled to additional tax dollars.
Top Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature contend the Supreme Court doesn't have the authority under the state constitution to tell lawmakers how much to spend on schools.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is with them, pointedly calling out the Supreme Court in his State of the State speech last week with five of the seven justices present.
With their public statements, Brownback and GOP legislative leaders suggest they're prepared to ignore a Supreme Court decision that mandates a massive increase in spending, as a lower court did last year.
GOP conservatives were similarly defiant in the last round of school funding litigation, but they now have enough political clout to block compliance, and some have suggested going further, taking steps to rein in the courts.
The tone worries educators, teachers and some parents. It's one thing for governors and legislators who aspire to slash taxes and shrink government to criticize or delay a court ruling but another for them to refuse to comply altogether or to attempt to reduce the courts' power. "That kind of thing could snowball around the country," said David Sciarra, executive director of the Newark, N.J.-based Education Law Center, which filed a brief in the Kansas case. "People are really watching Kansas to see how the governor and Legislature respond."
Parents of more than 30 students and the Hutchinson, Wichita, Dodge City and Kansas City school districts sued the state in 2010, arguing that it was not living up to its obligations under the state constitution.
In the last round of litigation, ending in 2006, the Supreme Court declared that the constitution's mandate for lawmakers to "make suitable provision" for financing the state's "educational interests" means they must spend enough money to give every child a suitable education.
A three-judge panel in Shawnee County last year ordered the state to boost annual spending on schools by $440 million. If the Supreme Court takes a similar tact, Brownback's signature fiscal and economic-stimulus policy — income tax cuts worth $3.9 billion over the next five years — is threatened.
That is, if Brownback and lawmakers attempt to comply. Brownback signaled the opposite in his State of the State address last week, declaring that the state constitution gives only the Legislature the power to set school funding.
"Too many decisions are made by unaccountable, opaque institutions," the governor declared. Lawmakers stood and applauded, with a few cheering, as the Supreme Court justices sat in silence.
Before lawmakers opened their annual session last week, Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, noted that five of the seven Supreme Court justices were appointed by Democratic governors and called the court "very invasive."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, an Independence Republican, said the "heart of the litigation" is whether elected officials or the court control budget and tax decisions.
And House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, said in an email statement Friday, "Directing taxpayer dollars to the various funding obligations of the state is strictly the job of the legislative branch."
But attorneys who file funding lawsuits and experts who track them contend education is different because each state's constitution contains a provision requiring it to provide adequate public schools.
Sciarra said past Kansas court decisions pushed the state to a "modern" finance system, in which funding decisions are based on the actual costs of providing an education, not political considerations.
Michael Rebell, a Columbia University professor who led a nonprofit group that sued New York over education funding, said Kansas already is known for its "dramatic showdown" in its last round of litigation.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ordered additional spending, based on a legislatively commissioned cost study, and conservative Republican legislators resisted. In 2005 and 2006, a coalition of Democrats and GOP moderates controlled education funding issues in the Legislature, and Democrat Kathleen Sebelius was governor. Rebell said the "defiant talk" now in Kansas is stronger than elsewhere — and a refusal to comply with a court order on education funding is rare.
"It obviously would strengthen the hand of governors and legislators who are not eager to comply with court orders," Rebell said. "That will create a buzz."
Educators find the prospect disconcerting. "We cannot honestly sit down with a 6-year-old and tell them, 'There's been a budget cut and I don't have time to help you,"' said Leigh Ann Rogers, a first-grade teacher at Forest View Elementary School in Olathe and the mother of a high school freshman and graduate. "It's the years of cutting and squeezing and getting every drop out of the turnip. People are getting weary."
But the prospect is serious enough that it's already been discussed by attorneys for the parents and districts suing the state, said John Robb, one of them. "We're in new territory here," Robb said. "We've seen talk — lots of talk — but we've actually not seen it in action."
The USD #400 Board of Education regular monthly meeting was held in the SVMS/SVHS auditorium on Monday, January 13, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. Continued discussion of the 2014-15 district budget was once again the major topic of the agenda. Nearly $400,000 must be cut from an already tight budget.After several years of making cuts and eliminating programs, class sections and building budgets, it becomes obvious that we can’t just trim budget lines to come up with that amount of money. The major cuts must come from our largest budgeted items, which are personnel and programs. Employees will be affected.
1. Approval of Regular Agenda
2. Approval of Consent Agenda
3. Patron Concerns
There will be no committee reports this evening.
4. Budget Discussion for FY’15
5. Upcoming Board Meeting Dates
6. Principal Reports
7. Executive Session
8. Additional Items
Proposed budget for FY 2015 presents both short- and long-term challenges
By Duane Goossen, Director of the Kansas Division of the Budget.
TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers will face difficult budget decisions when they return to the Statehouse for the 2014 legislative session. The Kansas Health Institute has produced an issue brief that details this situation and projects the combined impact on revenue that the 2012 and 2013 tax bills will have over the next few years.
A preliminary budget has already been approved for fiscal year (FY) 2015, which runs from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015. However, policymakers will need to consider extensive revisions in order to balance expenditures with projected revenue and leave a 7.5 percent ending balance, as required by Kansas law.
A change in Kansas tax laws in 2012 and 2013 caused projected collections to be significantly lower in FY 2014 and beyond. This has created a budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year. Last session, legislators modified some of the tax cuts and tried to reduce spending in order to close the gap. However, even with those changes, approved spending exceeds revenue.
Projections show that the gap between expenditures and receipts will widen over the next several years, unless difficult decisions are made to bring them into closer balance.
To further complicate matters, there is pressure to increase spending. For example, a lawsuit before the Kansas Supreme Court could produce a ruling that requires the state to increase school funding levels. Medicaid spending and contributions to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) are also likely to increase yearly. And there have been specific requests to increase funding for corrections, higher education, the judicial branch, state employee salaries, and other state services.
“Kansas lawmakers face difficult choices concerning the budget in the upcoming legislative session,” said Duane Goossen, KHI vice president for fiscal and health policy and a former state budget director. “Their decisions will provide a visible reflection of their policy priorities as we head into an election year.”
As I stated in my comments a couple of weeks ago, I'm concerned about losing the money somewhere else in the state funding formula in order to fund kindergarten. There is serious discussion about attacking at-risk programs because some legislators felt they were over-funded last year, and there is no plan as to where the Gov. will find the extra 80 million to fund the program.
A loss in At-Risk and a gain in kindergarten funding would not be a "wash" for our district. USD #400 is among many districts that charge parents for the all-day program because of budget restraints. We promised our patrons that if the program was ever funded, we would pass that savings along to them, and relieve parents of the kindergarten fee. So in essence, the district could lose additional dollars. We do hope that it gets funded, but not at the expense of any of our other programs.
Alan L. Rupe, a lawyer for the school districts and students seeking increased funding, criticized the state leaders for passing a tax cut, “and then stand here to plead they cannot increase funding to schools.”
Ray Merrick, the Republican speaker of the House, told the Kansas City Star that he did not see the Legislature “going along with what the courts say.” (see entire article - New York Times)
Closing Vision_Tek will not save the district any money. The USD #400 Board of Education is working to examine all aspects of the budget and reviewing all programs and services offered for our students. “We are spending a great deal of time determining how we are going to balance the 2014-15 budget.”
As the Board works to set priorities for the next school year, one area that will not be cut is Vision_Tek. The building has proven to be a major benefit to the district, not only by serving students and the community, but it also produces considerable revenue for Smoky Valley.
The district does not require that programs such as Industrial Arts, Family and Consumer Science or Music produce revenue enough to sustain their programs. These programs are put in place because they are good for our children. Vision_Tek is also producing amazing results for a large number of SV students in the area of technology. But unlike any of the other district services, it does produce enough revenue to benefit the district and keep the building operating without financially taxing the budget.
Unfortunately many of our programs will be threatened with cuts and reductions because of the State’s economic situation. Cutting the Vision_Tek program will not save the district money. The losers would be the students, the community and the district budget. Closing the facility would force us to cut something else in order to make up for the lost revenue that the center generates.