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Under the Dome - January 15, 2013

They're off!

The 2013 Kansas Legislative Session kicked off yesterday with the swearing in of new members.

Tonight Governor Brownback will give his annual State of the State address in which he is expected to lay out his expectations for the session. His budget proposal is generally released at the same time.

For right now committees are just getting geared up. They House Appropriations Committee will be reviewing the state budget and the Governor's proposals this week and other committees, including the Education Committees are just getting organized.

The Senate and House Education Committees will be meeting in joint sessions through January during which they will get briefings from the State Department, the Board of Regents and other organizations - including KNEA - which have been invited to present.

There are many new members so it may take some time to get everyone oriented before business begins in earnest. It's always a good idea to give the new members training in the budget and legislative procedure early on.

Schodorf changes parties

Former Republican State Senator Jean Schodorf who was defeated in the purging of moderate Senate Republicans last August has officially changed to the Democratic Party. Jean was welcomed by the Sedgwick County Democrats yesterday.

In addition, Schodorf has launched a new policy blog in partnership with former Senator Dick Kelsey. Kelsey also lost his bid for re-election. While Kelsey is widely thought of as a conservative Republican he often clashed with the Governor over tax policy.

You can find their blog at

KNEA releases statement on Gannon school finance court decision

Yesterday, KNEA put out a statement on the District Court decision in the school finance lawsuit known as "Gannon."

KNEA was pleased with the decision and had this to say:

Once again a Kansas Court has found that the Legislature has failed to fully fund an appropriate public education for Kansas students

The last time this happened, the Legislature eventually responded by dramatically increasing base state aid per pupil and satisfying the Supreme Court's order to fund a suitable education for Kansas students. When the economic downturn occurred in 2008-09, Kansas was on the way to completing the Legislatively-enacted phase-in of appropriate school funding.

Declining revenue as a result of the economic downturn caused Governors and Legislators to turn back those increases eventually moving school funding to well below the level of funding in 2005 - the year of the Montoy decision. In last week's Gannon decision, the Court directed the Legislature to honor the base state aid per pupil level of $4,492 approved by earlier Legislatures in response to the Montoy decision.

It has already been announced that the State will appeal this decision but given the earlier Montoy decision and the Legislature's own research showing the inadequacy of the per pupil funding levels it appears to be an uphill battle for the State to reverse the Gannon decision.

While the State had argued that the cuts enacted were necessary because of declining tax revenue due to the economic downturn, the Court took exception to that argument saying, "It seems completely illogical that the state can argue that a reduction in education funding was necessitated by the downturn in the economy and the state's diminishing resources and at the same time cut taxes further, thereby reducing the sources of revenue on the basis of a hope that doing so will create a boost to the state's economy at some point in the future." Essentially, the State had the revenue but chose to enact massive tax cuts rather than restore school funding.

The Court put five requirements on the State:

1.      Fund the statutory base state aid per pupil level of $4,492 and pro-ration of the statutory level is not permitted,

2.     Fully restore capital outlay state aid,

3.     Fully fund LOB equalization and make no changes to Local Option Budget that would result in a "wealth based disparity in the distribution of funds,"

4.     Make no changes in the school finance formula that would result in lowered funding, and

5.     Adopt an inflationary measure to make sure school funding keeps up with rising costs.

Reaction from the Governor's office and Republican leadership was swift and predictable. They denounced the decision as an unconstitutional intrusion on Legislative authority and renewed their calls for giving the Governor unprecedented authority in the selection of justices. They also contend that this will result in large property tax increases for Kansans. Some Legislators have even made the claim that the Court was forcing them to increase spending.

However, the Court has not directed the Legislature to spend MORE; they have directed the legislature to fund the statutes that the Legislature passed. It was the Legislature that set base state aid per pupil at $4,492. The Court has only directed them to follow their own statute.

As to the issue of property taxes, this decision has no effect on property taxes whatsoever. Whether or not property taxes increase will be a matter of how the Legislature decides to react. Since the Legislature last year chose to enact massive cuts to the state income tax, they will need to look to some tax source to overcome first the shortfall of nearly $300 million created by the tax cut and then the projected $440 million necessary to fund the school finance formula. If property taxes go up, the decision will rest entirely with the Legislature. There are many options available to them; they have so far chosen to use scare tactics in reaction to being held accountable.

The Court's decision is congruent with school finance advocacy positions of the Kansas National Education Association.

  •  It does not require the state to spend beyond the amount the Legislature promised in the wake of the Montoy decision.
  •  It restores equity to the capital outlay program for property-poor school districts.
  •  It acknowledges that costs to school districts grow over time along with inflationary pressures.

We do not believe that this decision usurps the authority of the legislature. Instead it calls upon the Legislature to honor the commitments made to schools in the past.

There is no greater economic development tool than a well-trained, well-educated citizenry. Kansas has long delivered on that promise. This ruling reasserts the State's commitment to the children, families, and businesses of Kansas.

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