Legislature fixes funding for schools

It appears public schools across Kansas will be opening their doors this fall on schedule and equitably funded.

The Kansas Legislature approved a bipartisan school finance equity plan Friday that plaintiff attorneys in the long-running lawsuit said they would support and Gov. Sam Brownback said he would sign into law.

The action ended a two-day special legislative session to address the Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found inequities in school funding that hurt poor districts and their taxpayers.

The court had given legislators a June 30 deadline to fix the inequities or face the possible closure of schools.

Passage of Substitute for House Bill 2001 also capped a remarkable pivot from Republican legislative leaders’ push for a plan that would have cut all school districts by 0.5 percent in order to redistribute those funds for equity.

But some Republicans and Democrats opposed that plan, arguing that cutting all schools to provide equity would be rejected by the Kansas Supreme Court, which has said attempts at equalizing cannot run afoul of providing adequate funding. As the day progressed, it was obvious the plan containing a cut to school districts wouldn’t pass.

So, negotiations ensued behind closed doors with legislators, school leaders and others.

What emerged was a plan that uses funds from several different sources to fix inequities ruled unconstitutional by the court. The measure was approved 116-6 in the House and 38-1 in the Senate. After the vote, Brownback said he would sign it.

Instead of cutting schools by $13 million, as the earlier plan proposed, it erased that cut by providing $13 million from either the sale of the Kansas Bioscience Authority or through the use of the extraordinary needs fund.

Other sources of revenue include $10.5 million from tobacco master settlement funds, $5 million from the Kansas Department of Trans­portation’s motor vehicle fee fund, $4.1 million from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and $2.8 million from virtual school aid.

Use of funds from sales of the Kansas Bioscience Authority assets was one of the new funding sources.

The KBA was created to help nurture biotechnology companies, but Brownback had been critical of the agency and signed a law this year to allow the sale. Initial sale estimates were pegged at $25 million, but officials said Friday they thought the state could get $38 million.

Another important part of the plan was that plaintiffs in the school finance lawsuit and the state agreed to stipulate that the bill complies with the court order to equalize funding.

Earlier Friday, critics of the Kansas Supreme Court failed to advance a proposed constitutional amendment that would have prohibited the court or Legislature from closing schools.

SCR 1602 received 26 votes, all Republican, in the state Senate, which is one vote short of the two-thirds majority required for proposed constitutional amendments to gain in the House and Senate before they can be put before voters.

Voting against the measure were 13 senators; seven Democrats and six Republi­cans. Even if it had gained the necessary 27 votes, the proposal was unlikely to get a two-thirds majority in the House.

Both passage of the school finance bill and defeat of the amendment aimed at limiting court remedies in school finance cases were accomplished through bipartisan votes.

This article originated with the Kansas Association of School Boards.

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