School funding could have been an easy fix for Kansas lawmakers this year.
But why make it easy when there’s so much fun to be had by delaying and dithering and pushing up against a nearly year-old deadline?
Why rush when you can ratchet up stress levels and play with the fates of legions of Kansas school children?
The Republican majority in the Legislature has taken a what’s-your-hurry approach to funding schools, and now things are getting serious. Deadlines are looming, leaders have split one key bill into pieces, and little to no legislative action has occurred. As was evident Tuesday when Senate Democrats failed in their attempt to jump-start deliberations on the issue, tensions are rising.
How could they not be?
“For many of us, it’s a huge concern, but others seem to not be in any hurry,” said state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Democrat. “I don’t know why not.”
Attorney General Derek Schmidt tried to bring some sense to the process. He once proposed a deadline of this Friday if lawmakers altered the funding formula or a March 15 deadline if lawmakers simply added money to account for inflation, as the state Supreme Court ordered last year. He needs time to prepare his defense of those actions before the court in mid-April.
Lawmakers aren’t working the issue this week, so they can kiss the Friday date goodbye. And nobody is taking odds on March 15, either.
This should have been the first thing lawmakers dealt with this year. The Kansas Supreme Court reviewed the funding plan last year and ruled that the formula distributed money fairly but hadn’t accounted for inflation.
Add another $90-$100 million a year, and the schools would be good to go. The long-standing legal fight over school funding would end, and lawmakers could finally — and mercifully — move on to other issues.
“Keep it simple. Fix the problem ... and end the litigation,” Bill Brady, who represents a coalition of 40 school districts, told lawmakers about Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to boost school spending to account for the inflation order.
It wasn’t to be. Instead, before lawmakers even convened this year, Republican leaders were talking about opening up the issue all over again and redoing the funding formula that legislators so carefully crafted last year. Now, in addition to at least two committees considering the issue, Republicans also are mulling other provisions dealing with ACT testing and classroom supplies.
In its ruling last June, the state Supreme Court said it would return to the case on April 15. At that time, both sides in the ongoing court fight will have to file reports addressing whether they think the Legislature fixed the problem.
State Sen. Molly Baumgardner, who chairs the Education Committee, said there’s still time to act. Meetings are occurring each day with education officials, she said. She’s been in contact with Schmidt’s office.
“Just because we don’t have an actual hearing yet doesn’t mean we’re not working on it,” she said.
But we’re left with the unnerving reality that lawmakers are waiting until the last minute to deal with the session’s biggest issue. Why delay? Why risk having the funding formula fall apart? Why dare the court to consider a statewide school shutdown come August if lawmakers fail?
It’s past time to get moving.