TOPEKA – Kansas legislators were discussing a short-term education funding fix Thursday to satisfy a state Supreme Court order while also debating longer-term proposals for curbing the court’s power to force school finance changes.
The state House and state Senate judiciary committees convened for joint hearings on both issues.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback called a special session of the GOP-dominated Legislature for June 23 to address a state Supreme Court decision last month in which it determined that the state’s education funding system is unfair to poor school districts.
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The court warned that public schools might remain closed across the state unless legislators rewrite school finance laws by June 30.
Many Republican legislators were angered, and state Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King promised to draft a proposed amendment to the state constitution to prevent the courts from threatening to close schools in the future.
But a proposed constitutional change would have to go before voters for their approval – and they wouldn’t weigh in until the November election. In the meantime, Brownback is pushing a proposal to boost education funding by $38 million for 2016-17 to help poor school districts.
“There’s been discussion that we’re just here to talk about a constitutional amendment,” King told his colleagues as the meeting started. “That’s not correct.”
State Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, said his plan would be to fully comply with the court’s most recent order, rather than pursue constitutional changes.
Kansas has been in and out of legal battles over education funding for nearly three decades, and the latest round began with a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts.
The state provides more than $4 billion a year in aid to its 286 local school districts, but the court ruled in February that poor districts weren’t getting their fair share.
Republican lawmakers responded by rewriting school finance laws, but the revisions didn’t change the amount of aid most districts would receive. The court then rejected some of the changes.