Kansas Lawmakers Form Committee To Start Work On School Finance Before 2018 Session

Oct 30, 2017

Kansas lawmakers soon will start work to determine their response to a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court that found K-12 public school funding unconstitutional.

Republicans and Democrats on a key legislative panel decided the matter is too urgent to wait until the 2018 legislative session starts in January.

They voted Monday to create an 11-member committee that will meet for three days before then. Its task will be to kick-start efforts that must be done by an April 30 deadline.

That’s when the state’s next round of written legal arguments are due to the Kansas Supreme Court, meaning lawmakers need to pass legislation fixing K-12 school funding before then.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, suggested the panel could lay groundwork for a long-term solution to a long-running problem. Kansas has faced school finance lawsuits for most of the last 20 years, with the courts repeatedly agreeing with school districts that the state’s K-12 funding falls short of constitutional obligations.

RELATED: 5 themes at the heart of Kansas’ school finance lawsuit

“I believe we have the opportunity now to end this and look for options that provide certainty for our kids and teachers,” Ryckman said.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said he hoped the committee would focus on school finance and not revive past proposals for constitutional amendments that would undo the state’s obligations to fund public schools.

“I would hate to think that one of the options that might be explored would be to dismantle Article 6 in the Kansas Constitution,” Hensley said.

Eight members of the 11-person committee will be Republicans and three Democrats. The dates of the committee meetings aren’t yet clear.

Earlier this month, the Kansas Supreme Court found the current school finance formula unfair to poorer school districts. The state also failed to convince the justices that overall funding levels across the state are adequate.

Meanwhile, some members of the Legislative Coordinating Council that met Monday sought to approve $400,000 in spending on legal counsel and an outside expert to assist the Legislature in winning the next round of the Gannon v. Kansas school finance lawsuit.

The motion to do so by conservative Republicans failed by one vote when House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a moderate Republican, split with them on the matter, calling for more time to consider the spending.

Of the $400,000, one quarter would go to former Senate Vice President Jeff King to continue acting as a lawyer on the Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit. King has been doing that since earlier this year, but under this proposal would focus on advising the Senate alone.

Another quarter would go toward hiring a lawyer to advise the House on the same topic.

And half of the $400,000 would go toward hiring an external consultant to help determine how much money public schools need to meet the state’s constitutional obligations.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.