School funding deal hits roadblock

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April 3, 2018 - 11:00 PM

Kansas Senate leaders said Tuesday they will not take up a school funding bill until legislators pass a constitutional amendment that would prevent the judiciary branch from enforcing education funding levels. KANSAS PUBLIC RADIO/STEPHEN KORANDA/KCUR.ORG

The Kansas House has had its say on school finance — putting the ball in the Senate’s court. But Senate leaders say they won’t move forward on increasing K-12 funding to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court without a deal to prevent schools from suing again in the future.

The message from Senate President Susan Wagle and Republican Leader Jim Denning was loud and clear Tuesday: Kansas must amend the state constitution to put an end to the cycle of litigation over school funding.

“This madness has to stop,” Denning said. “We need a constitutional amendment to move forward.”

Earlier in the day, House Republicans and Democrats voted 71-53 to back a $500 million school funding plan, passing it on to the Senate.

Reps. Kent Thompson, R-LaHarpe, and Adam Lusker, D-Frontenac, both voted in favor of the funding plan.

Wagle fears that plan will again drive Kansas into a budget deficit and won’t guarantee an end to the lawsuits.

“We just have to stop this train,” she said. “It would be a tragedy if we were to allow a bill to pass on the Senate floor that Kansans can’t afford.”

A different potential solution for financing K-12 education advanced from a Senate committee.

Kansas is facing an April 30 deadline to pass a school funding increase and defend the solution at the Kansas Supreme Court. Lawmakers agreed last spring to hike school funding by around $300 million, but failed to win the court over.

Both the House and Senate bills currently in play retain that $300 million. The House’s proposal would ratchet up funding further in increments of around $100 million a year over the next five years. The Senate’s would add just under $55 million in the first year, with similarly sized increments in the four years after that.

House Democratic Leader Jim Ward voted against the $500 million House plan, which he argues wasn’t enough to end the seven-year-old lawsuit against the state.

“It’s frustrating,” Ward said. “I don’t think anyone on our side of the aisle thinks we’ve fixed the problem or ended the litigation.”

Ward said the House and Senate are likely to meet somewhere in the middle, making an already bad situation worse.

Other legislative leaders also shied away from predicting how the two chambers will agree. House Speaker Ron Ryckman said his chamber has done its share for now.

“Our job was to send them a position,” he said.

Rep. Fred Patton, the Republican who carried the House’s bill, said he expects it won’t be easy. But both he and Ryckman remained hopeful that a solution would emerge before the end of the week when the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn for a three-week break.

Republican Sen. Molly Baumgardner, chair of the Senate school finance committee, said the gap in funding between the two bills isn’t worrisome because the two chambers often negotiate very different positions.

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