Block grant ruling expected by many

?This ruling on equity really helps USD 410 because we rely on that equity funding from the state to help us when our valuation is not like the valuation is in districts with lots and lots of property.??Steve Noble, USD 410 superintendent
?This ruling on equity really helps USD 410 because we rely on that equity funding from the state to help us when our valuation is not like the valuation is in districts with lots and lots of property.??Steve Noble, USD 410 superintendent
USD 410 Superintendent Steve Noble said he was not surprised by the Kansas Supreme Court?s ruling Thursday that Kansas lawmakers violated the state Constitution last year when they repealed the state?s old school finance formula and replaced it with a system of block grants for two years.

The unsigned decision upheld a June 26, 2015, ruling by a three-judge district court panel, which said the new funding system is not equitable.

Noble said the decision means ?a great deal? for USD 410 and other rural school districts in the state.

?We?ve talked a lot about how difficult it is for our tax base to fund schools to the level we all believe they should be funded in terms of being able to get our kids to a place where they?re ready for life,? he said.

?This ruling on equity really helps USD 410 because we rely on that equity funding from the state to help us when our valuation is not like the valuation is in districts with lots and lots of property.?

Block grant ?fix?

Lawmakers had approved the 2015 block-grant plan as a temporary fix to replace a per-student ?weightings? formula for distributing state funding for schools.

The law was meant to give lawmakers time to devise another system for distributing more than $4 billion a year in aid to its 286 public school districts.

But the court on Thursday said the three-judge panel acted prematurely in ordering the state to add nearly $50 million in additional funding to cure the inequities.

Instead, the court gave lawmakers until the end of this fiscal year, June 30, to fix the problem themselves. But the court also warned that it could close public schools next year if lawmakers fail, or refuse, to take action.

Serious deadline

Noble said he believes the Supreme Court is serious about the June 30 deadline.

?The Supreme Court is saying since we have ruled that the current funding mechanism for schools is unconstitutional, they will not allow state money to fund schools in an unconstitutional way,? he said.

?Therefore, schools will not receive any state aid until it is constitutional state aid. That could mean we don?t open in August.?

Noble said USD 410 has about $500,000 in operating cash reserves.

?That?s about one month of payroll and bills for our district,? he said.

Noble said he believes the Legis?lature will act to meet the equity requirements that were reflected in the former state funding formula, but that doesn?t mean state funding for K-12 education will increase in Kansas next year.

?There has been nothing from the Legislature and the governor over the past several years that indicates they all of a sudden are going fund schools,? he said. ?They have never done that and this ruling does not force them to do that. This ruling only forces them to redistribute the money equitably.

?My thinking is there will not be any increase to the education-funding pot. It will simply be the same amount of money they?ve ear-marking for education, and then redistribute it according to something very similar to the weightings that were in place under the old formula.?

Noble said the worst-case scenario would be that public schools in Kansas would not open this fall because the Legislature has not fixed the equity issue in the amount of time allowed by the court

?Leadership (in the Legis?lature) says it can?t be done, and others are saying, ?Yes, it can,?? Noble said. ?It just depends who is going to win out in this game of back and forth.

?It just can?t happen that schools won?t open?well, it can happen, but it absolutely must not happen, and I think that?s how the Legislature sees it, too.?

Adequacy review

Thursday?s ruling did not address another, much larger issue in the school finance lawsuit: whether overall funding for public schools is adequate for them to provide students with a suitable education.

The three-judge panel has ruled that current funding is not adequate, and has suggested the state may need to add as much as $500 million a year in funding.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court on that portion of the case have not been scheduled but are expected to occur this spring.

Noble said the recent ruling may put the oral arguments on hold.

?Some are thinking that the courts are saying ?you have a chance to fix them both equity and adequacy right here, right now, and we wouldn?t have to come back (for the adequacy decision),? he said.

?That?s a very a optimistic viewpoint, but I?m not quite that optimistic.?