DALLAS — Kansas lawmakers should fully comply with a court order to equalize funding between wealthy and poor schools even though it requires "significant" new spending, Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday.
The conservative Republican governor voiced his views in a prepared statement March 18 as the Kansas legislature considered a March 7 state Supreme Court ruling that school funding is inadequate under the state constitution.
The Supreme Court deemed reductions in state aid to certain poorer districts in fiscal years 2010, 2011 and 2012 as funding disparities. The ruling also disagreed with the state legislature's assertion that school funding cuts were necessary because of the state's large tax cuts. The Kansas State Legislature estimated that the tax cuts will reduce individual income tax receipts by more than $730 million in fiscal 2014, and by as much as $5.2 billion cumulatively through fiscal 2018.
The ruling sent part of the case back to a lower court. If the legislature fully funds capital outlay state aid and supplemental general state aid for districts indicated by July 1, the lower court will not be required to act.
According to the Kansas Department of Education, spending should be increased by $129 million to comply with the court order.
Brownback issued a statement outlining "principles" for lawmakers in responding to the court ruling.
"The equity issue raised by the court should be completely addressed this year," Brownback said in his statement. "The solution to the equity problem will require significant new funding."
Democrats are seeking full funding of the $129 million increase. But some Republicans want to spend less or shift existing dollars for public schools in a way that would equalize funding.
The court's ruling already has negative implication on the state's Aa1 credit rating according to Moody's Investors Service.
Analysts Lisa Heller and Chandra Ghosal wrote in their March 13 report that "the mandated increase will pressure state finances that are already stressed by revenue losses from income tax cuts."
The proposed increase in school funding equals 1.9% of the state's $6.2 billion proposed fiscal 2015 budget.
"The decision opens the door to a worse fiscal outcome for Kansas because the court also ordered new standards for educational adequacy that could come with significant new costs," Moody's noted. "Still, the ruling's immediate credit-negative effect could have been far worse if the court had not rejected a lower court's recommendation of a $511 funding increase, or 8.2% of the proposed budget."
Brownback was the chief proponent of the income tax cuts and supported a constitutional amendment that would have banned the state courts from ordering increased education spending. That measure failed in the Legsilature in 2012.