About the Author
Joseph N. Molina III
Legislative Services Director
The Kansas Legislature will reconvene this Thursday, June 23, 2016 for a special session to deal with the school finance issue. This is very similar to the special session from 2005, but this time the Kansas Supreme Court has set a school closing deadline on June 30. See http://bit.ly/28J0Cst
With time being of the essence, more than 30 lawmakers attended a Joint Meeting of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to discuss ideas on complying with the court order and several constitutional amendments to limit the court’s power to order schools closed again.
The two-day meeting was broken down in a history lesson on school finance, public comments from interested parties (school advocacy groups, the legal community, KPI etc.) and recommendations from committee members. See http://www.ksbar.org/page/judicialservices and http://www.kslegresearch.org/KLRD-web/2016SpecialSession.html.
The Kansas Bar Association is an opponent of any constitutional amendment that limits the Supreme Court’s authority to issue remedial orders or fully adjudicate cases that come before it. See http://bit.ly/28JkzPf.
In the end, the Senate members recommended that the Senate Ways and Means Committee and House Appropriations Committee review the testimony and minutes of the Joint Meeting. The Senate members also recommended that a constitutional amendment limiting the court’s authority to close schools be studied during the Veto Session. There is a high probability that this amendment will be introduced when the Special Session opens on Thursday. See http://bit.ly/28JbkgX.
The crux of the meeting was to find a way to deal with the Supreme Court’s order on equity. Committee members were of three different mindsets on how to best resolve the issue. One group wanted to simply pay the $38.7 million. The group proposed the extraordinary needs fund and the postponing of a $25 million road project as the source of funding, but the governor was not too keen on the idea. Another group wanted to shift money around between school districts until “equity” was reached. The last group wanted to do nothing and let the deadline pass.
See http://bit.ly/28JiA9n, http://bit.ly/28IqYdk and http://bit.ly/28J0CGq.
Sen. Greg Smith went as far as discussing the original Kansas Constitution called the Wyandotte Constitution to point to the first school finance formula. Sen. Smith used the Wyandotte Constitution to define “equity;” it was an interesting history lesson, but not many committee members took it as a true recommendation. See http://bit.ly/28J1ln6.
Rep. John Rubin is a staunch opponent of adding more money and he would like to see school funding cut. Rep. Rubin, who is not seeking reelection, was an opponent to all recommendations and he indicated he will introduce a constitutional amendment to limit school funding to 45 percent of state budget. See http://bit.ly/28JisIY.
Legislators understand that the issue needs to be resolved and quickly, the concern is how to comply with the court order. Many Johnson County legislators are concerned that shifting money around will be a net loss for their district. Johnson County would like to see a “hold harmless” provision in any school finance plan. However, the Kansas Supreme Court had specific issues with this fix. Conservative lawmakers oppose adding new money to the pot, and the democrats support moving money around and fund transfers. See http://bit.ly/28J76at and http://bit.ly/28Jjly4.
It is hard to say what proposal has the upper hand, but something needs to get done—and soon. June 30 is only 10 days away.