Today the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SCR 1608, a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would remove the ability of courts to order the level of spending on schools. Specifically, the proposed amendment adds this language: “The financing of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power under article 2 of the constitution of the state of Kansas and as such shall be established solely by the legislature.”
The key sentence in the Constitution reads “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” Proponents of increased school spending in Kansas interpret that to mean the state guarantees Kansas children a suitable education, and the state must spend whatever it takes to accomplish that result.
But that’s not what the Constitution says. In the following audio excerpt from today’s hearing, Sen. David Haley questions Sen. Steve Abrams, who was testifying to the committee in his role as chair of the Senate Education Committee. Abrams clarifies what the Constitution actually says.
Also providing testimony to the committee was Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute. He told the panel that the courts’ decisions, both in the 2005 Montoy case and the just-decided Gannon case, were based on a flawed cost study by the consulting firm Augenblick & Myers (A&M). And the courts knew this, as explained in Trabert’s written testimony:
“A&M openly admitted that they deliberately deviated from their own Successful Schools methodology and delivered artificially high spending numbers by ignoring efficient use of taxpayer money. Amazingly, the Montoy courts still based their rulings on ‘evidence’ that was known to be worthless. And now the Shawnee County District Court is following that legal precedent in its ruling on Gannon.”
Trabert also explained that there has been no school cost study that considered to cost of schools operating in a cost effective manner, including another study that courts and school spending advocates have relied on:
To this day, no study has ever been conducted in Kansas to determine what it would cost for schools to achieve required student outcomes and have schools organized and operating in a cost effective manner.
A Legislative Post Audit study conducted in 2006 is often cited as a basis for determining school funding requirements, but LPA made it quite clear (on page 2, where it is hard to miss) that “… 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.” (emphasis added)
Opponents of the proposed amendment will testify tomorrow.