Fixing Kansas’ school finance problems could cost state billions

Capitol Bureau

Improving Kansas public schools to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court could cost taxpayers billions.  

On Monday, the out-of-state consultants who conducted the new school finance study were at the capitol to answers questions. 

Lawmakers packed the old Supreme Court room to listen as Texas A&M University professor Lori Taylor and Jason Willis with WestEd consulting firm, explained their school finance report.  

“Clearly, Kansas schools are using dollars well, given what they’re tasked to deal with,” explained Willis. “So the state might consider ensuring how do you help to maintain their level of efficiency as you invest additional resources.”

The school finance report released Friday showed it could cost up to two billion dollars to properly fund schools.

“I think it was helpful to get the explanation so we can better understand what her numbers mean and she gave us information on how we could scale things in over time,” said State Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka. 

The report is tied to performance benchmarks. According to the report, increasing the state’s high school graduation rate from 86 percent to 95 percent would cost the most. 

“This is a very big number, but it would also be paying for a big change in improvement,” said Mark Tallman with Kansas Association of School Boards. 

According to Taylor and Willis, if the state opted for a graduation rate goal of 90 percent it could cost up $1.6 billion. 

“I think the 90 percent is more of the realistic goal, and I think it’s something that is probably more affordable,” said State Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita. “The bottom line in the end is we’re going to have to put more money into our schools.”

The consultants also suggested phasing in money over multiple years, but said there should be a “catch up” period for adding additional money so the state can get back on track. 

Last year, lawmakers approved a $300 million increase for school funding which was paid for by a tax increase, however the high court ruled the funding was still inadequate. 

Democratic leadership said they’re hoping to work with Republicans to create a funding solution the Supreme Court would find adequate. 

“I think we can afford to fund a reasonable school finance bill that is going to comply with the adequacy order that the Supreme Court has handed to us,” said Senate Minority Leaders Anthony Hensley. 

Following Monday’s hearing and the Senate floor session, Republican Senate leaders avoided reporters. A few hours later Senate President Susan Wagle sent out a release saying:

“The legislature has tried for almost half a century to comply with numerous court rulings by increasing education spending and hiring school finance experts. However, we can no longer continue down this road without significant harm to Kansas families by implementing a massive tax increase or cutting essential government services. This will hurt taxpayers, families, small businesses, and our future generations. The bottom line is that Kansans cannot afford what the court is demanding, and we cannot afford what the new study is recommending. To meet the Supreme Court’s demands, the legislature will be forced to pass one of the following options:

  • Triple property taxes earmarked for schools.
  • Raise income taxes close to the levels of New York.
  • Raise sales taxes to rates higher than California.”

Lawmakers have until April 30 to come up with a funding solution and present it to the Supreme Court.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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