December 16, 2011

 

Attorney: Brownback Plan Would Spark More Litigation

by Peter Hancock l The Kansas Education Policy Report

(Topeka, Dec. 14, 2011) – The lead attorney for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the current school funding system in Kansas says the alternative being offered by Gov. Sam Brownback is even worse, and would only result in further litigation.

“His claim that this will break the litigation cycle is folly,” said attorney John Robb in an email Wednesday. “This will increase the litigation cycle and pull even more dollars into the litigation process and away from the classroom.”

Robb represents the group Schools for Fair Funding, a coalition of 55 Kansas school districts (www.robblaw.com/PDFs/zzzzz99999SFFFMemberList%202011-10-13.pdf) who are suing the state, alleging the Kansas legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty to provide suitable funding for the state’s schools.

“Our current K-12 funding formula is broken,” Brownback said in a news release that accompanied the presentation. He said the proposal fulfills his campaign promise to introduce a new funding plan that, “increases local control, transparency, breaks the cycle of litigation, and focuses more resources on the classroom.”

But Robb said he doesn’t believe the current formula is broken.

“The problem is not with the current formula, it’s with legislative underfunding of the current formula,” Robb said. “Don't throw the baby out with the bath water and fix parts that don't need fixing. Just fund the current formula like promised.”

In 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court sided with the same group of plaintiffs in an earlier lawsuit, Montoy vs. Kansas (www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/supct/2005/20050103/92032.htm), and ordered the legislature to provide additional funding. Specifically, the Court ordered lawmakers to appropriate enough money to cover the actual cost of providing a suitable education, as measured by a cost study the legislature had commissioned earlier.

That order resulted in a massive infusion of new money into public schools — increases that were essentially funded by natural growth in state revenues during relatively good economic times. But in the economic downturn that began in 2008 with the collapse of the housing market and several financial institutions, state revenues took a sharp plunge, prompting legislators to make deep cuts in school funding.

At its peak, base state aid per-pupil under the current formula was set at $4,400 for Fiscal Year 2009. This year, it’s $3,780 — a cut of 14 percent over the span of three years.

Those cuts prompted Schools for Fair Funding to organize another lawsuit, which they filed in December 2010. That case, Gannon vs. Kansas (www.shawneecourt.org/doe/search.jsp?caseNumber=10C+001569&location=internet), is scheduled for trial in June 2012.

Robb says that under Brownback’s proposal, that new, lower level of funding would effectively become the new base, and it would bear no relationship to the actual cost of providing a suitable education.

Furthermore, he noted, Brownback’s plan does away with most of the “weighting” factors that send additional money to certain districts based on factors such as poverty levels, population density, the number of non-English speaking students and the relative cost of living in certain districts.

“As required by the Montoy case, (Brownback’s plan) fails to recognize that it costs more to educate some kids than others,” Robb said. “It does away with the adjustments in the current formula that provide more funds to those kids that cost more to educate.”

 

The Kansas Education Policy Report is a subscription-based news service focusing on legislation and policy dealing with K-12 education in Kansas. It can be found at http://www.ksedpolicy.com.