Charter school provision to be tossed from Kansas funding bill

Republican House leaders worked quickly Friday to draft a new school funding proposal that more closely mirrors talks with the Senate and governor, jettisoning language that sought to expand charter schools in Kansas.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, from Johnson County, said he wants pared-down legislation that would satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court order to address inequities in two funds aimed at putting poor public school districts on equal financial footing with their wealthier counterparts.

Merrick said the language about charter schools and some of the other policy changes inserted Thursday by the House Appropriations Committee were outside the scope of the framework he was negotiating with Senate President Susan Wagle and Gov. Sam Brownback.

The speaker also said the charter school provision was inserted without his knowledge.

“When I negotiate, I want people to trust me,” said Merrick, a Stilwell Republican. “These things happen. I can’t be at every (committee) meeting.”

Legislators have until July to make the changes but are quickly running up against an April adjournment date, when they take a three-week break.

“People ought to be able to walk out of here then and know this thing is behind them,” Merrick said.

The appropriations committee bill linked a $129 million funding boost to proposals designed to help parents send their children to private schools and measures encouraging the creation of new, state-funded charter schools.

Rep. Marc Rhoades, chairman of the committee, issued a statement explaining how his committee’s bill took shape.

“The piece about charter schools was added in at the last moment at the request of a member, and I take full responsibility for that decision,” the Newton Republican said.

“The intention was to have a debate about the issue in committee, never to undermine negotiations between the House, Senate and governor.”

Merrick’s office announced Friday that House leadership would be introducing a new bill without the charter school language. He later confirmed the bill would still contain other major policy changes, including an income tax credit for corporations that donate to scholarship funds that could help children attend private schools.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said he expected some policy changes to ultimately be approved, such as alternative certification for teachers, but also preferred a slimmed-down measure.

“You always run the risk of getting too many moving parts in a bill,” said Bruce, a Nickerson Republican.