Governor Sam Brownback signed SB 19, the newest school finance legislation put forward by the Kansas Legislature, June 15 and the appellees (school districts) and appellants (State) of the Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit have filed their briefs prior to oral arguments which will take place Tuesday, July 18. IDR detailed major portions of the appellees' brief in the Wednesday edition and today will go into the State brief.

 

The State was tasked with showing that SB 19 is "reasonably calculated to address the constitutional violations identified" in Gannon IV (the March 2 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the previous funding scheme was constitutionally inadequate). Their brief goes further to question whether new equity challenges by the districts should be rejected as "improperly raised at this time and as without merit," and whether the Court should "at most issue declaratory relief, allowing the Legislature adequate time and opportunity to address any remaining constitutional issues identified by the Court" should they find SB 19 fails to comply with the Gannon IV ruling. 

SB 19 returns the Kansas school finance system to formulas materially identical to those in the School District Finance and Quality Performance Act (SDFQPA), which were approved by the Court in the Montoy decision, the brief stated. 

 

"To comply with the implementation requirement of the adequacy test, SB 19 sets the base aid for student excellence (BASE) at $4,006 for school year 2017-18 and $4,128 for school year 2018-19," it said. "The artificial base for calculation of LOB remains the same as under previous law until FY2020, but SB 19 allows any district to adopt an LOB up to 33 percent of the product of the artificial base and adjusted enrollment by simple resolution of its board, requiring an election only if a protest petition is filed." 

 

The State stated that in addition to providing "hundreds of millions of dollars in more funding," the bill also targets funding for the educational opportunities of the underperforming subgroups of students that were identified by the Court in Gannon IV by increasing the at-risk weighting from 0.456 to 0.484 with a 10 percent enrollment minimum. The intent is for those funds to be used for implementing best practices to be identified by the State Board of Education. 

The bill also adds about $2 million for preschool-aged at-risk students and fully funds all-day kindergarten, which they say will free up additional at-risk funding because many districts have been using at-risk money to fund all-day kindergarten. 

 

The State showed their work by using a "successful schools" analysis to find a level of funding that was reasonably calculated to satisfy the adequacy standards. 

They did this by identifying 41 districts that out-performed how the Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) predicted they would based on their at-risk levels. USD 446 was one of those 41 school districts. The State said they determined the average spending by successful school districts was $4,080 per weighted student. 

"KLRD calculated the BASE of $4,080 using the successful schools methodology. But rather than increasing the BASE to this level in one fell swoop, SB 19 phases in additional funding, providing a BASE of $4,006 in FY2018, $4,128 in FY2019, and indexing the BASE to inflation in subsequent years," the brief stated, noting that the Legislature did accept testimony from the Kansas Association of School Boards that keeping the formula in line with inflation is "the most important aspect of ensuring adequate funding for schools."

 

While the BASE the Legislature came to in SB 19 falls short of the various recommendations from studies that they commissioned, the State said that SB 19 funding increases align with the LPA cost study's estimates if all sources of revenue are considered. 

 

"This Court […] clarified that all sources of funding should be considered in determining compliance with Article 6 (of the Kansas Constitution)," they said. "And when all sources of funding are considered, the funding increases in SB 19 exceed the amounts specified in the LPA cost study."

 

The State brief does touch on the districts' claims during the scheduling conference that SB 19 violates the equity requirements that were previously remedied. "When it comes to equity challenges unrelated to violations previously found by this Court, SB 19 should be entitled to a presumption of constitutionality, and the districts should have the burden of demonstrating that the law violates Article 6, assuming they are allowed to raise new equity challenges at all," they said. They said that regardless, SB 19 satisfies equity because the LOB funds, which were what the districts challenged as not equitable, are fully equalized under the formula. 

Finally, the brief maintained that if the Court finds SB 19 does not substantially comply with Gannon IV, they should at most issue declaratory relief, allowing the Legislature to address remaining issues and at bare minimum the Court should allow the first year of SB 19 to remain in effect.

 

Oral arguments will be heard Tuesday, July 18 from both parties. As of the Gannon IV ruling on March 2, the State had spent just over $1.5 million on the Gannon v. Kansas case.