School funding suitability in Kansas

As a Kansas court considers intervening in Kansas school finance, the importance of accurate and meaningful evidence on school funding should be the court’s top priority. Supporters of increased school funding rely on two studies that they claim supports more funding for schools. An analysis by Kansas Policy Institute is helpful in understanding why the studies relied on in the past should be discarded.

“Suitable” Funding of K-12 Should Not be Based on Montoy

Augenblick & Myers Gave the Court Deliberately Inflated Numbers

June 7, 2012 — Wichita — The attorneys representing Kansas school districts suing taxpayers for additional funding in Gannon v. State of Kansas are trying to prove that the state is not making suitable provision for K-12 funding. Their definition of “suitable” is based on a formula that the legislature implemented after the Kansas Supreme Court ordered nearly a billion dollar increase in the 2005 Montoy decision. But the Montoy decision was based on a seriously flawed study.

“Basing suitability on the Montoy decision or any variation thereof throws efficient use of taxpayer money out the window. The 2001 Augenblick & Myers (A&M) study was supposed to take efficiency into account but they admitted that they deviated from their own methodology and by doing so, gave the court inflated numbers,” said Kansas Policy Institute president Dave Trabert.

KPI published a legal analysis of Montoy in 2009 that was written by Caleb Stegall, now Gov. Brownback’s general counsel. Stegall wrote a critique of the previous efforts to determine suitability with a nod to cost-effectiveness that still holds today, “So while the Legislative Post Audit (LPA) study — and the A&M study for that matter — attempted to provide informed estimates of the price of certain policy decisions, in the end, LPA rightly recognized that only the Legislature is capable of making such decisions. As such, the best that any cost study can do is inform the Legislature as to the range of possible costs associated with different policy decision, and not dictate the exact price tag associated with a funding system that passes constitutional muster. This fact simply brings critical clarity to the contradictions at the heart of the school finance debacle in Kansas.”

Trabert continued, “The subsequent Legislative Post Audit study was designed to essentially replicate the A&M study. LPA very deliberately reported that they were not asked to determine what it would cost if schools were organized and operated in a cost-effective manner.”

LPA made this very clear on page two of their report. “In other words, it’s important to remember that these cost studies are intended to help the Legislature decide appropriate funding levels for K-12 public education. They aren’t intended to dictate any specific funding level, and shouldn’t be viewed that way.

Finally, within these cost studies we weren’t directed to, nor did we try to, examine the most cost-effective way for Kansas school districts to be organized and operated. Those can be major studies in their own right. However, such issues potentially could be addressed in the on-going school audits we’ll be doing after these cost studies are completed. Topics for those audits will be approved by the 2010 Commission, which was created by the 2005 Legislature.”

The 2010 Commission waited three years to have LPA begin to look at efficient operations of schools. They released a study in July 2009 that cited eighty recommendations for schools to save money without impacting outcomes. The next step was to have been audits of individual districts but superintendents objected and convinced the Commission to stop the mandatory efficiency audits.

Trabert continued, “All along the way, the Legislature has attempted to receive information on the efficient use of taxpayer money in public education but their efforts have been thwarted. They passed legislation that encouraged districts to direct 65 percent of funding into Instructional costs in another attempt to ensure that taxpayer money was put to the best use but districts ignored them. Instruction spending accounted for 53.6 percent of total spending in 2005; total spending was $1.3 billion higher in 2011 but Instruction spending was only 54.3 percent of the total. Upon discovering that districts had used another $400 million in state and local tax dollars to increase cash reserves since 2005, legislation was passed to make a lot of that money easily accessible but very little of the money has been used.”

Trabert concluded by saying, “Legislators have shown multiple good-faith efforts to make provision for suitable finance of public education and we believe they have fulfilled their constitutional obligation to do so. ‘Suitability’ may not be a clearly-defined term but it certainly hasn’t been established by any study to date.”


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