TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — While most Kansas lawmakers are arguing over increasing state aid to public schools, one House member would eventually cut it 20 percent. Republican Representative John Rubin, of Shawnee, says he'll propose an amendment to the state constitution to limit aid to public schools to 45 percent of the total spending financed with general tax revenues. Rubin contends that Kansas spends too much on its schools and diverts money from other critical needs such as prisons and social services. The current spending percentage tops 50 percent. If Rubin's amendment were in effect now, education funding would be cut more than $700 million for 2016-17. Rubin plans to pursue his proposal during a special session next week for addressing a recent state Supreme Court order on education funding.
The Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee has settled on the language for a proposed amendment to the state constitution to prevent public schools from being closed as a result of education funding lawsuits. The committee's vote today (FRI) means it will introduce the measure when lawmakers convene next week for a special session on education funding issues. The House Judiciary Committee decided not to introduce the same proposal in its chamber. The proposed amendment is a response to a state Supreme Court order last month warning that schools could remain closed after June 30 if lawmakers didn't revise the state's education funding system. The proposal would prevent both the courts and legislators from closing schools in response to a school funding lawsuit. Such an amendment would have to be approved by voters.
Two Kansas legislative committees have avoided endorsing specific recommendations for attempting to satisfy the recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling on education funding. The House and Senate Judiciary committees convened a joint meeting today (FRI) to consider potential responses to the court's ruling. But the committees voted separately to forward the testimony they gathered and a summary of their discussions to both chambers' budget committees when lawmakers convene a special session next week. Governor Sam Brownback called the special session to respond to the court's order. The justices warned that public schools might not reopen after June 30 if lawmakers don't make changes by then. Some lawmakers want to boost education funding by $38 million for 2016-17.
Kansas Democrats are proposing a plan that cuts job-creation spending by $13 million to keep public schools open after July 1. The overall $39 million in re-allocations of funds also includes a freeze on virtual school spending by over $7,000. Democratic Senator Laura Kelly, of Topeka, said that only $66,000 had been used from the job-creation program last year and that the idle $13 million proposed for school funding won't kill job opportunities. Replications were immediately critical. Legislators concede they would be open to a proposal to prevent wealthier school districts from being disproportionately harmed to gain enough Republican votes.
The Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee's chairman is suggesting that lawmakers divert $25 million in highway funds to aid to poor school districts as part of a plan to comply with the court's order. Republican Senator Jeff King, of Independence, has proposed that lawmakers increase the state's aid to public schools by $38 million for 2016-17 to help poor districts. King said lawmakers could divert $25 million set aside for an upgrade of U.S. 69 in southeast Kansas to school aid. Brownback's administration previously delayed the upgrade but announced recently it would go forward.
Kansas legislators are grappling with the question of whether they can protect wealthier districts from losing state aid while increasing it to poor districts to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The House and Senate Judiciary committees had a joint meeting Friday to discuss possible education funding fixes and were debating whether any plan should include a "hold harmless" provision to protect wealthier districts from having a piece of their aid redistributed. But doing so could require legislators to increase state aid overall by $50 million for 2016-17.