UPDATE: New Kansas School Finance Plan Approved by Legislature; Special Session Ends
Kansas legislators have ended their special session after passing an education funding plan aimed at satisfying a court mandate and averting a threat that the state's public schools might shut down. The Senate adjourned at about 8:20 tonight (FRI) and the House followed about 30 minutes later. Republican Governor Sam Brownback called the GOP-dominated Legislature into session to respond to a state Supreme Court order last month. The court said the state's education funding system remained unfair to poor school districts despite three revisions of school finance laws in the past three years. The justices had warned that schools would not be able to reopen after this month if lawmakers didn't make more changes. The governor and lawmakers expect the plan to satisfy the court.
Republican Governor Sam Brownback says the Kansas Legislature has done a "fantastic job" in passing a school funding plan to satisfy a state Supreme Court mandate and end the threat that schools might not open. Brownback told reporters he will sign the bill that lawmakers passed overwhelmingly earlier tonight (FRI). It increases aid to poor school districts by $38 million by diverting money from other parts of the budget to schools. An attorney for four school districts suing the state said the plan solved issues identified the Supreme Court in a ruling last month. The court said the education funding system remained unfair to poor districts and warned that schools might not be able to reopen after June 30. Brownback said: "I will sign it, and this will be finished."
Kansas legislators have passed an education funding plan from Republican leaders that boosts aid to poor school districts to satisfy a state Supreme Court mandate and end a threat that the state's public schools might not reopen next month. The plan approved increases aid to poor school districts by $38 million for 2016-17 by diverting money from other parts of state government. The votes were 116-6 in the House and 38-1 in the Senate, sending the plan to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. He is expected to sign it. Legislators had a two-day special session to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling last month that the education funding system remained unfair to poor districts. The justices warned that schools would be unable to reopen after June 30 without changes.
The Kansas House has approved an education funding plan from Republican leaders that would boost aid to poor school districts to satisfy a state Supreme Court mandate and end a threat that the state's public schools might not reopen next month. The vote was 116-6 on a bill that would increase aid to poor school districts by $38 million for 2016-17 by diverting money from other parts of state government. A Senate vote also was expected soon. Its approval would send the bill to the governor. Legislators had a two-day special session to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling last month that the education funding system remained unfair to poor districts. The justices warned that schools would be unable to reopen after June 30 without changes.
A new school funding plan from top Republicans in the Kansas Legislature has been endorsed by an attorney representing four school districts suing the state. Lawyer John Robb said Friday that the plan "solves the problem" of complying with a state Supreme Court order last month to make education funding fairer for poor school districts. The House and Senate are expected to vote on the plan Friday night. Robb said that if they approve the plan and Governor Sam Brownback signs their bill, "We should be good to go." Legislators are in the second day of a special session called to respond to the Supreme Court's order. Robb said that if the plan is enacted, the four school districts and the state will send a joint statement to the court endorsing it.
Fewer Kansas school districts would lose some of the aid they've already been promised for 2016-17 under Republican legislative leaders' new school funding plan than under a previous plan. That's because the new plan fashioned today (FRI) relies less on reshuffling existing education dollars to boost aid for poor school districts. A spreadsheet from legislative researchers shows that 77 of the state's 286 school districts would lose some of their aid. Another 169 would gain funding, while 40 would see no change. GOP leaders' first plan would have decreased aid to 141 districts and increased it for 145. Under the new plan, the Blue Valley, Olathe and Shawnee Mission districts in Johnson County would lose a total of $3.9 million, but that's less than under the previous plan.
A Kansas school superintendent whose district is suing the state over education funding has endorsed a new plan from Republican leaders for complying with a recent state Supreme Court order. Kansas City, Kansas, Superintendent Cynthia Lane said today (FRI) that she's pleased with the plan. Both chambers of the Legislature hoped to vote on the new plan Friday night and end a special session called to respond to the court's order last month to make education funding fairer to poor school districts. The plan boosts aid to poor districts by $38 million for 2016-17. It finances the extra aid largely by diverting funds from other parts of the state budget, but wealthy districts do lose some state aid. The Kansas City district and three others sued the state in 2010.
Kansas Senate Panel Approves GOP Schools Plan
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has approved a Republican education funding plan aimed at satisfying a state Supreme Court mandate and averting a threat that schools will shut down. The Ways and Means Committee's 9-2 vote Thursday sent the plan to the full Senate for a debate that is expected Friday. Lawmakers are meeting in a special session to address a Supreme Court ruling last month. The plan would boost aid to poor school districts by $38 million, but much of the money would come from reshuffling existing education dollars. The votes against the plan came from the committee's two Democrats. The Supreme Court said the state's education funding system remains unfair to poor school districts. The justices warned that schools wouldn't be able to reopen after June 30 without changes.
GOP Moderates Alter Kansas School Funding Plan
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Moderate Republicans in the Kansas House have modified their plan for meeting a state Supreme Court mandate on education funding to make it more palatable to fellow lawmakers. Republican Representative Melissa Rooker of Fairway said a proposal to divert $6 million in unused economic development funds to public schools has been dropped because of potential opposition. Some Republicans have argued that the move would stymie job creation. Rooker said the plan would instead divert existing education dollars set aside for schools' emergency needs to boost aid for poor school districts. The moderate GOP plan still would tap $9 million in motor vehicle fees. They're all elements of a plan to increase aid to poor school districts by $38 million for 2016-17 to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling last month.
GOP Leaders Revise Kansas School Funding Fix
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republicans in the Kansas Legislature have rewritten their education funding plan. The plan unveiled Friday boosts aid to poor school districts by $38 million, just as a previous plan from Republican leaders did. It redistributes some funds from wealthier districts to meet a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to make the education funding system fairer to poor districts. It does not rely as heavily on reshuffling of existing education dollars as the previous plan. Instead, it dedicates funds from the planned sale of assets of the Kansas Bioscience Authority to cover up to $13 million of the aid to poor schools. The authority was set up a decade ago to nurture bioscience businesses. The House Appropriations Committee approved the plan and the full House planned to debate it later Friday.
Kansas Superintendent Endorses New Schools Plan
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas school superintendent whose district is suing the state over education funding has endorsed a new plan from Republican leaders for complying with a recent state Supreme Court order. Kansas City, Kansas, Superintendent Cynthia Lane said Friday that she's pleased with the plan. Both chambers of the Legislature hoped to vote on the new plan Friday night and end a special session called to respond to the court's order last month to make education funding fairer to poor school districts. The plan boosts aid to poor districts by $38 million for 2016-17. It finances the extra aid largely by diverting funds from other parts of the state budget, but wealthy districts do lose some state aid. The Kansas City district and three others sued the state in 2010.
Attorney: GOP Funding Plan Won't Meet Terms Set by Kansas Supreme Court
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney representing four Kansas school districts that are suing the state over education funding says a new plan from Republican lawmakers won't satisfy the state Supreme Court. Lawyer John Robb said the plan is flawed because it shuffles some existing education dollars to boost aid to poor school districts by $38 million. The Legislature convened a special session Thursday to address the Supreme Court's order last month that the state's education system remains unfair to poor districts. The justices warned that schools might remain closed after June 30 without further changes. Part of the GOP plan trims all districts' aid for general operations to help cover the additional aid for poor districts. Robb said in an email, "The time for these shell games has passed."
Kansas Senate Rejects Proposed Constitutional Amendment
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have prevented the state's courts from closing schools in deciding future education funding lawsuits. The vote Friday was 26-13, one vote short of the 27 needed for a two-thirds majority to pass a constitutional change. The measure was a response to a state Supreme Court ruling last month declaring that the state's education funding system remains unfair to poor school districts. The justices warned schools might not reopen after June 30 if lawmakers didn't make changes. Critics said the proposal was designed to handcuff the courts. But supporters said future school closure threats need to be eliminated. The proposal also would have prevented legislators from closing schools in response to a court order.
Former Kansas Governors Unite Against Brownback, Supporters
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Four former Kansas governors are lashing out at Governor Sam Brownback over policies they say have thrown the state into a serious fiscal crisis. A letter signed Friday by Republicans Bill Graves and Mike Hayden and Democrats Kathleen Sebelius and John Carlin calls the upcoming elections the most important in Kansas history. The letter says Kansans are starting to acknowledge that many of the wrong people are serving in state office, but adds that too many residents don't understand the issues and will be vulnerable to misleading political campaigns. The governors are part of the Save Kansas Coalition, which also includes more than a dozen former lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. When asked for a reaction to the coalition’s letter, Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley responded that “the governor is focused on working with the Legislature to ensure Kansas schools remain open.”
Westar Seeking Updates on Costs That Could Reduce Kansas Rates
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy is seeking a change in its transmission costs that would reduce customers' rates by about $18 million. In March, the Kansas Corporation Commission approved a $25 million increase to the utility's transmission delivery system. That came a day after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a settlement between Westar and the KCC after determining the company collected too much money from customers. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports those two decisions prompted Westar to update its transmission costs Tuesday, reducing charges to customers by $18 million. Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig says the when customers see the reduced costs will depend on when the KCC acts on the utility's request. She says if the request is approved, customers in average households should save about $1.50 a month.
Lawrence Ditches Plan to Comply with Weapons Law
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The city of Lawrence is ditching a plan to add security measures that must be installed in some public buildings under a new state law in order to restrict concealed firearms. The 2013 Personal and Family Protection Act allowed Lawrence and other cities to ban concealed weapons for four years before complying with a state law that says concealed firearms are allowed in public buildings unless the structures are equipped with security measures. The city attorney's office prepared for the end of the exemption by proposing that the city use more than $114,000 of the 2017 budget to purchase security devices, such as metal detectors, for four public buildings. City Manager Tom Markus tells the Lawrence Journal-World that the plan was removed from the budget because of its expense. He says the city commission may revisit the issue.
Man Charged with Threatening Jewish Congregation in Kansas
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas City man has been charged with threatening a Jewish congregation in Kansas. Forty-year-old Brian Wachter made a first court appearance Thursday on a single criminal threat count. Wachter is jailed in Johnson County, with bond set at $25,000. No attorney is listed for him in online court records. The Kansas City Star reports that prosecutors accused Wachter of making an unspecified threat last month against the Jewish Congregation Beth Shalom in Overland Park. Court records say Wachter was born in Pittsburg and spent time in Las Vegas before living more recently in Kansas City. Wachter is jailed in Johnson County, with bond set at $25,000.
Feds Charge Relative of Suspects in Somali Attack with Lying
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Prosecutors have charged a Kansas man for allegedly lying to FBI agents who were investigating an attack on three Somali men in Dodge City. An indictment unsealed Friday charges Diego Martinez with making false statements to a federal agency. He is the brother and the half-brother of two alleged attackers. The indictment alleges he lied to FBI agents in order to provide himself a false alibi for the time of the assaults. Court records do not indicate whether he has an attorney. His indictment is the latest fallout from the June 19, 2015, assault on the three Somalis, who were in the country legally, by Hispanic men outside the African Grocery Store in Dodge City. Omar Cantero Martinez and Armando Sotelo were charged in April with federal hate crimes.
Sedgwick County Commission Tables Immigration Policy Resolutions
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Sedgwick County Commission has tabled a resolution that would ask the Legislature to bar immigrants living in the state illegally from receiving in-state tuition and from using a federal nutrition program. The Wichita Eagle reports that the decision was made Wednesday after a two-hour discussion. About a dozen people, including elected officials, activists, immigrants and church members, asked commissioners to reject the resolution. They contended that providing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants would be beneficial to the community rather than detrimental. Speakers also criticized the county commission for trying to limit access to the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides checks to low-income mothers for nutritious food and drink. Commission Chairman Jim Howell says the resolution will be taken up at a later meeting.
U.S. Senators Reach Deal on GMO Labeling
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators have a bipartisan deal on labeling of genetically modified ingredients, a week before a labeling law in Vermont goes into effect. The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday announced legislation to pre-empt Vermont's law and give food companies more flexibility with the labels. Instead of text that says the item was produced with genetic engineering, companies could instead use a symbol or an electronic label accessed by smartphone. The deal comes after more than a year of negotiations between Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas. The agreement couldn't become law before Vermont's law kicks in July 1, since the House is on vacation until July 5. Legislation passed by the House would make the labeling voluntary.
Hutchinson Man Convicted of Restraint in Domestic Dispute
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Reno County jury has found a Hutchinson man guilty of a lesser charge of criminal restraint after he was originally charged with aggravated kidnapping for not letting his girlfriend out of the car during an argument. The Hutchinson News reports that 27-year-old Arthur Pina Jr. was also convicted on one count of domestic battery and on counts of possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia. The victim testified that she and Pina got into an argument while they were driving and smoking marijuana in November 2015. She said it escalated into a physical altercation in which he punched her in the face and put her into a headlock. Authorities say they found drug's in Pina's vehicle. Pina's sentencing is scheduled for July 29.
Coroner Can't Determine What Killed 2-Year-Old Wichita Girl
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A coroner's office wasn't able to determine what killed a 2-year-old Wichita girl whose body was found in a field. Medical examiner Timothy Gorrill says in an autopsy report that toxicology tests on Jhornee Bland were negative and the cause of her death will be listed as undetermined. The girl was found dead in a field May 9, a day after her mother reported her missing. Wichita police have said her body showed no signs of trauma. Investigators said they believe she died early Sunday, May 8. A babysitter was caring for Jhornee in the days before her death. Police have said the babysitter put the girl's body in the field and lied to her mother about Jhornee's whereabouts. The babysitter was arrested but later released without charges.
Documents Detail Abuse Allegations Against Adoptive Parents in Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Court documents say the adoptive son of a Kansas couple begged his teacher to not make him go home from school on Fridays because he was terrified of them. Several witnesses say the 11-year-old was regularly beaten with a wooden spoon and had his arm broken after he ran away from his North Newton home. Harvey County District Judge Joe Dickinson on Wednesday released the arrest affidavit detailing accusations against James Nachtigal, who ran a home for the aging, and his wife, Paige Nachtigal. They were charged in February with 12 felonies each, including child abuse, aggravated battery and child torture. They are accused of abusing the boy and two other children they adopted from a Peruvian orphanage while working as international missionaries. Their McPherson-based attorney declined to comment Thursday.
Kansas City Driver Admits to Involuntary Manslaughter
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) - A man who drove 115 mph and used marijuana before a deadly suburban Kansas City crash has pleaded guilty to a felony. The Kansas City Star reports that Julian Melissinas, of Blue Springs, admitted Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court to involuntary manslaughter. The charge stemmed from a crash that killed his friend, 19-year-old Clint Reno, in May 2015 in Independence. The plea comes almost a month after a judge revoked Melissinas' bond after the 20-year-old again tested positive for marijuana during a drug screening. A jury trial had been scheduled for September. Sentencing is set for August 25. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors will not seek a sentence longer than five years in prison.
Wild Mustangs Available for Adoption in Northeast Kansas
TONGANOXIE, Kan. (AP) - Wild mustangs rounded up from the open range in Western states are up for adoption in northeast Kansas. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the adoption event is planned for today (FRI) and Saturday at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds in Tonganoxie. This year, the Bureau of Land Management will have 36 mustangs and burros at Tonganoxie available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a minimum $125 adoption fee. he BLM started the adoption program in 1973 and has placed more than 230,000 horses and burros in its 43 years. BLM wild horse and burro specialist Crystal Cowan says the animals are rounded up to preserve healthy herds and to protect range-land resources. Adoptees must be at least 18 years old, have no animal abuse record and adequate facilities.
Wichita Museum Workshops to Teach Cursive Handwriting
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum is holding a series of workshops to teach cursive writing and its importance in history. The Wichita Eagle reports that the museum will host eight workshops every Thursday through July 28. Cynthia Martinez-Woelk, a museum educator and art teacher at Irving Elementary School, says the workshop was conceived while discussing ideas on how to get younger children involved in learning local history. Martinez-Woelk says much of the history of Wichita is written in cursive so it's important to learn how to do it. Cursive handwriting had not been a part of the Wichita school district's curriculum until 2013, when the Kansas Board of Education implemented new handwriting standards. The state board doesn't mandate how cursive should be taught.