TOPEKA | As the Kansas legislative session approaches its halfway point, the future of Gov. Sam Brownback's education plan is murky.
After two days of hearings on the plan, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee said today she couldn't predict the fate of the plan, which would give school districts the unrestricted ability to raise property taxes.
"Strangers things have happened. I just don't know what the future of that bill will be," said state Sen. Jean Schodorf, a Wichita Republican.
"We're trying as hard as we can," she said. "In the end, everybody has to decide whether it's good for their districts and that's the hard part."
The Senate Education Committee has been trying to advance the bill the last two days, but it started to become apparent to some lawmakers that the more they worked the more they seemed to return to the current school finance formula.
"It just appears we're spinning our wheels here trying to figure all the ways out...to get back to where we started," said Sen. Allen Schmidt, a Hays Republican.
Some senators, for instance, have been trying to restore money for poorer students that the governor's plan eliminates and places into one payment to local districts.
State Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, predicted that the bill would ultimately need to be reintroduced next year.
"It's a major change in the school funding formula and it takes people a while to get comfortable with major changes of that magnitude," Vratil said.
"I think it has an uphill battle this year," he said. "It will probably need to be reintroduced next year."
Brownback's plan to rewrite the existing school formula comes as the state faces two lawsuits over how elementary and secondary education in Kansas is bankrolled.
A group of Shawnee Mission parents is challenging the constitutionality of the existing cap on local spending — something that would be removed under the Brownback plan. That case was dismissed by a federal judge and is now being appealed.
Another lawsuit in state court brought by 63 Kansas school districts, including Kansas City, Kan., argues that education spending cuts violate the state constitution. The case is expected to go to trial later this year.
One goal of the new plan is to break what the governor calls the “cycle of litigation,” an issue that dates to 2005, when the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to spend millions more on schools.
The administration has suggest that another unfavorable court decision could cost Kansas taxpayers somewhere between $700 million and $1 billion — money the state can ill afford.