April 28, 2014

Kansas AG uses outdated school finance figures in court filing

The attorney general used inaccurate school finance numbers in documents filed with the Shawnee District Court on Friday, meant to support a motion to dismiss part of the school finance lawsuit.

The attorney general used inaccurate school finance numbers in documents filed with the Shawnee District Court on Friday, meant to support a motion to dismiss part of the school finance lawsuit.

The Supreme Court ordered that the state address unconstitutional inequities between school districts in a March decision. The Legislature passed a bill meant to address this order, and the governor signed it into law last week.

On Friday, Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed a motion to dismiss the equity portion of the school finance lawsuit on the grounds that the Legislature had satisfied the court’s order. Another question over the adequacy of school funding is still pending and will be decided by a three-judge panel.

Schmidt included as evidence, supporting his motion, an April 6 analysis by the Kansas Department of Education, which projects $48 million in additional classroom aid as a result of the recently passed legislation.

However, the Department of Education updated its analysis on April 17 because the previous analysis did not consider all of the changes lawmakers had made. The new analysis determined the potential aid to classrooms would be closer to $36 million.

Another $25 million will go toward capital improvement projects; $84 million is projected to go to property tax relief.

The attorney general filed his motion on April 25, eight days after the Department of Education updated its numbers.

The governor also continued to use incorrect numbers last week, as did ads paid for by his political organization.

David Kensinger, who heads Road Map Solutions, the governor's political organization, blamed the use of incorrect data in pro-Brownback advertisements on a lack of communication the Department of Education.

"I don't think KSDE shared the revision with anybody. Certainly not with me. We went with what we did precisely because of their April 6 writing. I was unaware of any revision until after the ad had stopped running," he said in an e-mail.

The updated numbers were available online as of April 17, and the Wichita school district had been using them before the governor signed the bill last week.

Clint Blaes, the attorney general’s spokesman, explained the inclusion of outdated numbers in the court filing in an e-mail.

“We included the April 6 document with the filing because that was the document provided to legislators at the time of the vote,” Blaes said.

That explanation didn’t make a lot of sense to Will Lawrence, an attorney who works as legislative counsel to Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

“Updating facts and figures would definitely be a priority of mine before filing anything with the court,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, also a attorney, put it bluntly. “That just hurts your credibility,” he said.

Denise Kahler, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, released a statement apologizing for confusion over the school finance numbers Monday evening.

The timing of the late changes to HB 2506 did not allow the department enough time to compute the increased aid for each school district in the state. And so after the Legislature adjourned, the department recomputed its totals, Kahler explained in the statement.

“KSDE regrets any reporting confusion this may have created,” Kahler said.

Blaes said that the only figures from the document referenced in the motion are numbers that have remained consistent: the increase in capital outlay money of $25 million and overall fiscal impact to the state, which is about $126 million.

But Lawrence said including documents that contain incorrect numbers on school spending could affect the court’s review of the school finance bill as a whole.

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