Statehouse candidates on the issues: The Supreme Court and K-12 funding

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Today we’re running the second set of responses to our questionnaire for the area statehouse candidates whose names will be on the primary ballots.

Here’s item number two:

“The Kansas Supreme Court’s latest ruling in the Gannon case suggests the legislature could come into compliance with the constitution’s K-12 funding “adequacy” provision by accounting for inflation in the formula it used in the plan approved last session. Making that adjustment could require the addition of around $100 million in annual funding for K-12 schools. Would you support updating the current K-12 formula per the court’s guidance? If so, where should that additional money come from?”

District 17

Rep. Tom Cox (Republican)

Did not respond

Jim Eschrich

Judiciary branch doesn’t appropriate money, the Legislature does. Period. I don’t care how well-intentioned the Court is on this matter. If the Court wanted to weigh in on how education money is distributed across the state, that I get. But telling the Legislature how big the pot of money should be, no, that is a bridge too far. So what should the state spend on education? Kansas ranks 32nd in wealth (or GDP). It seems to me that at a minimum we should also rank 32nd in education spending. We don’t. A hike in education spending is in order. But let’s be clear, to move up in the rankings would require an increase far less than $600M a year that the Court has mandated. Would I support spending more than the minimum? Yes. Provided that it comes from the people and peoples’ representatives in the House, and is accompanied by meaningful education reforms.

District 18

Eric Jenkins (Republican)

The Kansas Supreme Court’s finding that the K-12 funding in Kansas is not “adequate” is a gross misstatement of facts. Kansans are #2 in the nation for per capita funding of education. We are in the top ten states nationally in funding per student. Kansas spends more than 50% of its budget on K-12 education. To call this inadequate is absurd. You may argue that we want the best education possible for our kids, and that we want to be #1 nationally. That is a different argument altogether. How in the world can anyone say we are inadequately funding education. Let’s be honest here, is being in the top 20% in student funding just barely adequate? For an example, take a classroom of 25 students. $13,000 X 25 = $325,000 per classroom. What are we getting for our $325.000? The teachers aren’t getting their share of it. The kids are not getting all they should. Like the old tag line “where’s the beef,” we could say “where’s the money?” Perhaps there are some hard questions to be posed and answered. I feel very strongly in providing a high-quality education for our kids. Our kids are our greatest natural resource and the key to continued world leadership by the United States. I don’t think the taxpayers are shorting our kids but perhaps we should look deeper into the allocation process of our school boards and the decision process of our administrators. There is an idea being floated to change the Kansas Constitution to address the issue of the Kansas Supreme Court directing the legislature in the area of taxation and appropriation. Since when did the Kansas Supreme Court gain authority to be both the Judicial and Legislative branch? Where is the separation of powers? I would be very supportive of the proposal to give taxpayers an opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment.

Cathy Gordon (Republican)

The question is what is “adequate” funding? I think it is time to compare apples to apples. Look at other states’ funding and ask why are we giving so much to the schools and the standardized test scores are average, or “C”. Currently, Kansas children who attend our public schools receive over $13,000 per student annually for education. We are one of the highest school funding states.

It is time to benchmark our educational funding process. For example, let’s compare our public school costs and standardized testing scores to that of our private schools in the same service areas. Where do we really equate. Furthermore, compare our state education funding and outcomes to other states. Once the results are in, ask the question, where do we stand? What can we do better? Kansas Policy Institute reports Florida has better testing scores with less funding. Their students’ average $7,000 per student. What makes them better for less money. Understanding the answer to these questions will better aide the legislation in making the right decision for our school funding.

Rep. Cindy Neighbor (Democrat)

The legislature has failed to fund schools. After at least four studies made over the last seven years, all of the outcomes of the research show the legislature has not provide adequate funding. We have an obligation to the children in our state and our future leaders to provide all students with the opportunity for success. Because of our positive balances in revenues, there are enough funds to add to the formula.

Andy Hurla (Democrat)

The lottery revenues can fund education.




District 22

Rep. Nancy Lusk (Democrat)

To finally end school finance litigation we need to align the funding with inflation, or else the funding will erode over time and be inadequate again. For an example of how severe the effects of inflation can be, look at the past five years of Kansas K-12 education funding. It has be shorted by an arrears amount of almost $3.6 billion if you calculate for inflation from the 2008-09 school year (the last time K-12 was funded at a constitutional level) and include the money the state has shorted special education funding during the same time period.

Fortunately, our state revenues are up by more than one billion over last year. It is likely that we may have enough money to cover the increase without raising taxes. Tariffs are the present big unknown, but from where ever the source of increased funding comes, it should be understood that money spent on public education is an investment which will bring us a return on the money; a well-educated workforce is the foundation of a healthy and competitive economy.

Michael L. Coleman III (Democrat)

Did not respond.

District 29

Peggy Galvin (Republican)

With this most recent Gannon decision I look forward to helping fully fund our schools and closing this chapter of fiscal neglect so our students can reach their full potential. Kansas has approximately $300 million surplus this year alone, with additional gains expected. That money could be used to meet the requirement of a constitutionally funded formula.

James Todd (Republican)

The Legislature should respect the ruling of the Supreme Court. Since 2013, the Legislature has voted for increases in annual education spending in excess of $1 billion new dollars. The increase in money has included expansion of all day kindergarten, increase money for special education programs, money for enhanced school security, and funds to help pay for students to take the ACT. In the Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley school districts this has also resulted in raises for teachers. Education is of paramount importance in Kansas.

I think we are close to an end of the current litigation. Complying with the newest Supreme Court order requires factoring in inflation over four years. That would be an annualized increase of around $45 million. I think this is the best option for now. There is currently a budget surplus that could pay for the first year, but I am hesitant to spend the entire surplus. Kansas needs a reserve fund to absorb any revenue shortfalls that were all too common in the past and can easily arise if there is a downturn in the economy. A rainy day fund needs to be in place to protect the budget and education spending from last minute cuts, further sweeps from KDOT, or delays in pension contributions.

District 30

Matthew Calcara (Democrat)

I would 100% support the additional funding. Currently, tax revenues are running ahead of where they need to be in order for us to add this additional support, so there is no need to get additional money in order to be able to do this.

What I think we need to be looking at is escaping from this paradigm where “the left” argues for the constitutional minimum of funding while conservatives argue we should be spending even less.

We need to be looking at the sort of targeted investments we could be making to ensure that every Kansas kid gets a world-class education. I believe free, universal pre-K for three- and four-year-olds, as well as two years of free post-secondary education are two such investments. Both could easily be paid for by adjusting our income tax structure to move us back to where we were before the Brownback experiment began.
The Legislature has a constitutional duty to fund schools, but true supporters of quality public education need to be working to ensure Kansas kids get the best education possible.

Brandon Woodard (Democrat)

Our public schools are the foundation that give young Kansans the opportunity for a meaningful life. I will support, at minimum, accounting for inflation in the K-12 funding formula to ensure we are adequately and equitably funding our public schools across Kansas, but especially here in Olathe and Lenexa. Additionally, I will advocate for further investment in public education to work with our local school boards to increase teacher pay, reduce classroom sizes, and ensure adequate nursing, counseling & psychological, para-professional, and social work support so that all Kansas students can thrive.

My positions on public education are the reason I’m the only Democrat in the August 7th election endorsed or recommended by both the teachers, KNEA/KPAC (Kansas National Education Association), and Education First Shawnee Mission.

With the partial repeal of the failed Brownback tax experiment, revenues are meeting or exceeding expectations. The State should invest that revenue into constitutionally funding our public schools. To generate additional revenue, I support implementing sales taxes on online purchases.

I will oppose the constitutional amendment regarding education funding proposed by ultraconservatives. Their Betsy DeVos-style rhetoric has no place in Kansas.

Wendy Bingesser (Republican)

It is good for the state that the Gannon saga could finally be ending. Like many Kansans, I have reservations about the Kansas Supreme Court acting like a legislative body. The Kansas Supreme Court has created a lot of uncertainty for Kansas families.

I graduated from Olathe North and both my sons graduated from Olathe East. I was on the board of Citizens for Excellence in Olathe Schools during the important 2008 school bond that moved the 9th grade students from middle school to high school. My record advocating for my sons’ education should give confidence to Olathe and Lenexa families that I will fight for our kids in the Kansas House of Representatives.

Two areas of education reform that the legislature should consider are increasing teacher salaries and enhancing career and technical programming for our high school students. Improving our education system in these two areas will help to strengthen our children’s education by attracting high quality teachers and preparing our students for the work force.

I will not support any more tax increases. We have already had two large tax increases over the last four years and Kansas families need a break. The Kansas Division of the Budget has indicated that the state will have an ending balance of at least $370 million in both fiscal year 2018 and 2019. If the state legislature spends its revenue wisely the projected ending balance should be able to cover the $100 million in additional annual K-12 funding mandated by the Kansas Supreme Court. Our kids cannot afford wasteful spending in state government.

Colleen Webster (Republican)

I approve and support the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision to allow our public schools to open this August and the school funding plan including the additional inflation rate for the next five years. If the inflation rate is 100 million annually, Kansas projected revenues from sport gaming are estimated at 70 million or more. Will the legislature move quickly enough to beat our neighboring states in pursuing these revenues?

Internet purchases from out-of-state retailers will also need to be taxed to keep our local businesses competitive and help our state.

Since Kansas will no longer be in the national news for underfunding its schools, we will attract more commerce. Quality public schools mean more new businesses paying taxes and additional taxpayers.

Through our 21st century vocational training in our high schools such as Biotechnology, STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering and Math), Aerospace, Culinary and traditional university preparation, we are educating citizens with valued careers who will be high-income taxpayers.

Check back tomorrow for the candidates’ responses to our third item:

“Should Kansas expand Medicaid eligibility, a move that would make health insurance coverage through the program open to about 150,000 additional Kansans? Why or why not?”

About the author

Jay Senter
Jay Senter

Jay Senter is the founder and publisher of the Post.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in business at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he worked as a reporter and editor at The Badger Herald.

He went on to receive a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas, where he earned the Calder Pickett Award. While he was in graduate school, he also worked as a reporter for the Lawrence Journal-World.