January 3, 2005
Happy New Year! 2005 promises to be another great
I’ll quickly give you the fun before the frenzy… My big news: I’m engaged! My fiancé, Dan Bruyn (pronounced “brine”), proposed on Christmas Eve – and before you ask, no we haven’t found a date! For those of you who don’t already know him, he grew up in Kansas City’s Northland, and is an engineer at the Harley-Davidson plant. We are pretty excited and were able to celebrate with multiple family and friend gatherings over the holidays.
Now, back to work! As many of you are now aware, the Supreme Court has issued an opinion in the case of Montoy v. Kansas, the infamous school finance case. Here is my assessment, you can read the text (it is not long, and fairly easy to understand).The Court reversed two of Judge Bullock’s findings, and affirmed another:
- The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s decision that the financing formula is a violation of equal protection. The higher court said that any funding differentials were “rationally related to a legitimate legislative purpose,” thus not in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
- The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s decision that the funding formula discriminates against minorities or other classes of students. The court said that impact must “be traced to a discriminatory purpose,” and it found that no discriminatory purpose was shown.
- The Supreme Court affirmed that the legislature has failed to meet its burden to “make suitable provision for finance” of public schools.
They go on to discuss changes in our racial and economic demographics and funding trends since the 1992 Court decision and subsequent finance formula changes.
The Court refers to the Augenblick & Myers study, commissioned by the legislature to determine the costs of “suitable education”. Using this study as a guide, the Court basically said there is “substantial competent evidence” that the legislature’s standards for schools are not being met under the current funding formula.
- The focus seems to be on the sticking point of the word “improvement” in the Kansas Constitution: “The legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools…”
- The court actually refers to the Webster’s Dictionary to remind us of the definition of “improvement” and makes the correlation to funding: “The Kansas Constitution thus imposes a mandate that our education system cannot be static or regressive but must be one which ‘advance[s] to a better quality or state.’” Hmmm, maybe that’s referring to the lack of a per-pupil funding increase in years…
- They mentioned Local Option Budgets (LOB) in an interesting aside,
noting that it was originally intended to be used for “extra” expenses,
but many districts must use it to cover general operating expenses.
- It is important they did not come out against the LOB.
- Also, the opinion did not make reference to the Johnson County Sales Tax for schools.
The Supreme Court’s “To Do” List:
- Determine actual costs of education. The Court complained that previous finance formulas were based on political compromise, not true spending needs, which inappropriately distorted low enrollment, special education, bilingual, vocational, and at-risk weightings.
- “It is clear increased funding will be required; however, increased funding may not in and of itself make the financing formula constitutionally suitable.” But, they don’t tell us what WILL make it constitutionally suitable, but we know it’s not money alone.
- Do “it” (whatever that may be) by April 12, 2005, or else we do it for you. This is GREAT, because (in theory) it forces the legislature to act before Veto Session, which is rare. However, I can already hear the din of excuses rising from legislators who consistently refuse to help schools, but do not want to go on record against education: “Fine, we’ll just let the Court deal with it!” will be their mantra.
The Kansas City Star had a brief article this afternoon, and I will most likely write again this week with additional analysis and resources from school funding scholars and lawyers familiar with the undertones of the Court’s opinion.
What can you do? For now, hold on and read the papers. Stay tuned while this unfolds, I’m sure there will be plenty of fallout and theories. The legislature reconvenes Monday, January 10, 2005 at 2:00 p.m.
As always, please feel free to reply with questions or comments about these or any other issues important to you, or if I can be of service to you.
17th District, KS House
Serving Lenexa and Shawnee
PO Box 19556
Lenexa, KS 66285