Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday ordered Kansas lawmakers back to Topeka on June 23 for a special session on school finance.
It could be a quick meeting.
In a later news conference, the Kansas governor appeared to support a $38 million solution to the problem that threatens to close the state’s schools in July — a position that may provide a path to compromise.
“We cannot allow our children to be caught in a constitutional struggle between branches of government,” Brownback said.
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In February, the Kansas Supreme Court said the state’s school funding system violated the state’s constitution. The judges said the problem had to be fixed by the end of June or money for the state’s schools could not legally be “raised, distributed or spent.”
Lawmakers changed the formula during their regular session, but in May the judges said the repair was still inadequate.
Legislators in both parties have started discussing other options for fixing the formula. One possibility: returning to an older system that provided more money for poorer districts, the idea Brownback appeared to support Wednesday.
Sen. Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said Monday that such a remedy might cost $38 million. But he said lawmakers might consider providing additional money to some schools hurt by the old formula, raising the total price to $50 million.
“We do not want our system of school finance to be unfair,” Hensley said during a phone-in town hall meeting organized by the Kansas Democratic Party.
At the same time, the state’s revenue stream continues to undershoot projections. Some believe the state faces a current budget shortfall of $50 million or more, complicating the problem of finding more money for schools.
Brownback appeared Tuesday to rule out tax increases to pay for any needed funding.
There is no formal deadline for the Legislature to finish the special session, and lawmakers are free to debate any topic, not just schools. But many school district officials have said they’ll have to shut down July 1 if no legal funding mechanism is in place, putting pressure on lawmakers to reach agreement as soon as possible.
By some estimates the special session will cost taxpayers more than $40,000 for each day lawmakers meet in Topeka.
The last special session in Kansas was held in 2013.