Kansas Governor Warns of Tax Hike if State Loses Funding Case
State's high court weighing 'adequacy'
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, known for his famous 2012 experiment to slash away at taxes, said Kansas would have to raise taxes if it loses an education funding fight in the state supreme court.
The court heard oral arguments last month in Gannon v. Kansas, in which four of the state's poorest districts argue that Kansas doesn't adequately support their school systems. Based on several studies, the districts argue that they need $800 million to $900 million more from the state in order to provide students with the services necessary to meet the state's academic standards.
"You'd have to look at major tax increases to do that," Brownback told The Wichita Eagle late last month.
After a series of income-tax cuts in 2012 and 2013—reductions Brownback pushed for—the state has fallen far short of its revenue projections. It faces a $45 million budget shortfall in October alone, according to local reports.
The Sunflower State lost a separate part of the school funding case dealing with equity earlier this year and was ordered to provide its poor districts with $38 million more. The state answered that ruling by taking money from other state agencies and handing it to poorer districts. The state spends around $6 billion a year on K-12 education.
If Kansas loses the other part of the case, the adequacy ruling, it would require the state to provide more money to all its districts. The justices are expected to issue a ruling in late November, after Election Day. At least five of the justices are up for re-election.
Kansas' supreme court justices last week expressed deep concern with the amount of money the state has provided its public school districts, as the state sought to challenge a lower-court decision that found the state's funding system inadequate, according to the Associated Press.
Funding and Test Scores
During the hearing that took place in September, the plaintiffs used the state's learning standards and test scores to show judges that budget cuts have directly affected academic results.
That's a legal maneuver used by a growing number of lawyers for districts across the country with overwhelmingly large populations of black, Hispanic, and poor students.While the argument got mixed results before 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act provided district lawyers with reams of test-score data. Separately, state legislatures in recent decades adopted statewide academic standards—in Kansas, they are known as the Rose Standards. In essence, states are being beaten with their own weapons.
Kansas' Solicitor General Stephen McAllister told justices during the equity hearing that there is not necessarily a correlation between test scores and funding and that "perfection" shouldn't be the goal, a position the justices openly scoffed at.
"I don't think you really should worry about the input if the output is doing well," said McAllister.
Justice Dan Biles indicated that he may push to have the legislature provide more money only for those students whose academic struggles are significant, about a third of the state's students.
Other State Action
The state also regularly cited a recent ruling out of Texas where its elected supreme-court justices said that while the state's public school system was clearly in need of deep reform, it wasn't the court's role to tell the legislators how much they should spend on education.
Meanwhile, in Washington state, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who is running for another term, said last week that his office has tried its hardest to respond to a state supreme court ruling there that ordered the state to provide millions more in funding. The court last year imposed a $100,000-a-day fine until the state's school funding formula is overhauled.
The Washington state legislature, during its last session, approved a "plan for a plan" to have a new funding formula in place by next spring.
Educators have said that the governor and legislature have acted too slowly to respond to the ruling and last month asked the court to amp up its threats to get the state to move faster.
Last week, the state's supreme court gave the state another legislative session to come up with a way to increase school employees' salaries, a process that will likely require tax increases.
"If we design our lives based on wishes, yeah, I wished that we'd solved everything an hour after I took, you know, my oath of office in 2013," Inslee said, according to The Seattle Times. "But these are challenging issues."
Vol. 36, Issue 08, Page 8Published in Print: October 12, 2016, as Kan. Governor: Tax Hike Needed If State Loses Funding Case