TOPEKA — The state’s higher-education budget should not be affected by the Legislature’s efforts to fix inequities in K-12 funding, according to the senator who chairs the subcommittee overseeing both budgets.
Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education, convened a short meeting to add in a proviso that the committee acknowledges the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Gannon v. State of Kansas.
But that acknowledgment includes no specific explanation about what the Senate might do to address inequalities in school funding identified by the court.
Arpke said the Ways and Means Committee will not fix inequalities in public school funding before it rolls out its higher-education budget recommendations Tuesday and its K-12 recommendations Thursday.
Some legislators voiced concern before the legislative session that a court order for more K-12 funding might affect money available for universities. But Arpke thinks the higher-education budget will be left intact when it creates a solution to satisfy the court’s ruling in the Gannon case.
Arpke said the Legislature has options to shift money in the K-12 budget to address disparities the court identified in capital outlay and local option budget funding.
“I think any funding that went into the base state aid is definitely going to be looked at. I think anything that the court allowed us to look at,” Arpke said. He mentioned federal funds, KPERS contributions and bonded interest as places the Legislature will look for available money. “I think we’ll be looking at all of those things.”
The adequacy of base state aid of $3,838 per student was the focus of another portion of the Gannon suit, which the Supreme Court remanded back to the district court on the grounds that outcomes had to be considered along with dollars to determine adequacy.
Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of education, said the Department of Education has been analyzing the impact of possible changes to the funding formula to each district but that the requests have varied greatly.
“They’ll do all kinds of manipulations of the weightings and the formula itself. If you name it, we’ve just about done it,” Dennis said.
“If I had to predict what was going to come out this week, I couldn’t do it. They’re all over the place,” he added.
Arpke said the Legislature is keeping its options open at this point.
One proposed fix
One thing Arpke does not expect the Legislature to do is a pass a bill from Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka. Her bill would appropriate $129 million to address inequity and eliminate the need for further court action.
Kelly said the court’s intention was not for the Legislature to shift funds already in the education budget. Doing so, she said, could cause new problems.
Arpke was blunt in assessing the Kelly bill’s prospects.
“I don’t think that bill has much of chance,” Arpke said. “I’m not saying we’re not going to write a check. I don’t think we’re going to write a check for $130 million.”
Kelly’s bill and its House companion would be the simplest and most effective fix, said Mark Desetti, spokesman for the Kansas National Education Association, who attended the brief meeting.
He added that if the Legislature tinkers too much with the funding formula it could complicate the future resolution on adequacy.
“Any change they make, if they were to do something different than that, it slows the final resolution down. I think it complicates things,” Desetti said.
Desetti made clear that the Legislature should not look to the retirement system as a place to find extra money. He said this would create a whole new crisis.
“If what they were doing was using KPERS as a revenue source … that’s a serious problem,” Desetti said. “I think to do that is very dangerous because KPERS already needs to be shored up.”