Government & Politics

Constitutional amendment on education funding heads to the House floor

The Kansas Supreme Court
The Kansas Supreme Court

A constitutional amendment dealing with the future of education funding in Kansas moved forward Wednesday, but does not appear to have a chance at making it to voters.

The Kansas House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday narrowly advanced a measure that would declare "the power to establish adequacy of financing for education as exclusively within the legislative power of the state.”

The legislation, which would limit the Kansas Supreme Court's role in education funding, advanced on a 12-10 vote.

"I'm willing to have the people of Kansas tell us what it is they want through a vote," said Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin.

The constitutional amendment now would need to pass both the House and Senate with a two-thirds majority — 84 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate. It would then go to a statewide vote, its fate left to Kansans at the ballot box.

If Democrats are united in their opposition to the amendment, the GOP has a narrow opening to pass the measure and put the final decision to voters.

Democrats on the House Judiciary committee criticized the path the amendment has taken through the Legislature.

The possible historic change was introduced in the House less than a week ago. GOP members on the panel agreed to amend the resolution during Wednesday’s meeting, much to the chagrin of the Democrats in the room who wanted more time for people to consider the language.

"No matter how hard the Speaker (Ron Ryckman) and President (Susan) Wagle push and coerce, I do not believe that responsible legislators are going to pass a resolution to shred our constitution so as to underfund our schools and deny our children a 21st century education, as badly as some legislators would really like to that," said Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita.

Votes on the amendments and a final vote to pass the resolution out of committee were not recorded by name, save for those who specified that they wanted their votes recorded. Several Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure.

The amendment’s progress came after two GOP leaders in the Senate blocked work on a school finance plan this week and said senators wouldn’t debate education funding until after lawmakers approve the constitutional amendment.

They also strongly opposed the school finance formula passed by the House earlier this week. Lawmakers face an April 30 deadline.

The two GOP leaders, Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning had changed their tune by Wednesday night. The GOP leaders said in a statement that they plan to debate the Senate's school finance plan Thursday.

The Kansas Supreme Court rejected last year’s school finance fix. The court then demanded another one, irking some as the state continues to face a lean budget situation even after increasing taxes during the 2017 session.

The blockade to help pass the constitutional amendment was quickly dismissed by Republicans and Democrats alike after it was announced this week.

Before the House hearing Wednesday, Wagle was asked what would happen if the amendment didn’t make it out of the lower chamber’s committee. Senate leaders said earlier the House was taking the lead on the amendment.

"We'll go with the flow," Wagle said. "I'm hopeful that the House wanted to start on the constitutional amendment and I'm hopeful they can pass one."

Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, said after the meeting that as a teacher he feels attacked by the amendment.

"I am thrilled to be able to vote no on this," Parker said. "... Based on what I've heard from my constituents, that'll be the best vote I ever cast in my time in the Legislature."

Ryckman said Wednesday night the House would not run the constitutional amendment on the floor this week.