Page 3 of 6
"Shawnee Mission is struggling," Deedy tells The Pitch. "When I talk to other people around the state, they may have other issues, they're struggling, too. Blue Valley and Olathe aren't facing the same restrictions we are."
The Shawnee Mission School District gets $3,838 from the state for every student — the same as every other Kansas district. Trouble is, Shawnee Mission is supposed to get $4,492 for each student — same as every other district should.
For this, Deedy blames the Kansas Legislature.
The $4,492-per-student level is what the state courts require, but the Kansas Legislature has ignored that mandate by appropriating less, with the claim that the state doesn't have enough money.
Compounding matters is the fact that the Kansas Legislature commissioned its own study for what funding level makes sense for public education. That was in 2006, and the report found that 2013 funding should be $6,142 per student.
The conflict between lawmakers and the courts is heading for a showdown during next year's legislative session.
Lawyers for the state and for 52 school districts are suing the state on the claim that Kansas hasn't met its constitutional requirement to adequately fund schools. The case is set for oral arguments starting October 8. A decision is expected in January.
If the Kansas Supreme Court rules that the state needs to return funding to the $4,492-per-student level, a state finance and constitutional crisis could follow. Some legislators have said they'll continue to ignore the court's order if it comes down in favor of the schools.
John Robb, a Wichita-area lawyer representing various school districts, says, rhetoric aside, lawmakers will go ahead and give extra funding to the schools despite their willingness to ignore the mandate in recent years.
"I'm an optimist, and I believe the Legislature is going to live up to their constitutional oaths and support the constitution," Robb tells The Pitch. "Although there's been a lot of posturing that they're going to ignore the courts, I'm hopeful that they're going to follow their oath and the constitution. If that doesn't happen, I think what you will wind up with is an unconstitutional school-finance system. The most likely scenario is, the courts shut down the education system until such time as the Legislature does its job."
That would be an embarrassing prospect for Kansas, but one not without precedent. Kansas schools came within two days of closing down in 2005 when the Kansas Supreme Court issued a similar order to increase school funding. Legislators acquiesced to the order at the 11th hour.
Unlike 2005, however, Kansas in 2013 has cut taxes, specifically corporate income taxes for certain businesses. That has bean counters in Topeka predicting a budget shortfall of up to $300 million for the state's next budget year.
"I don't believe the state under the current tax law can sustain over the next five years," says Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Republican House member from Fairway who sits on the House Education Committee. "If you add the ramifications of losing the court case, I don't think it's a sustainable plan, and that's why I voted no. I don't have enough experience to know how we navigate the crisis, but I think such a crisis is on the horizon."
Hinson is more circumspect about the state's fiscal issues and their impact on education. He says he hasn't studied Kansas' new tax plan to know how it will affect education.