TOPEKA — A fast-moving plan to absolve the Legislature of its constitutional commitment to fund public schools could reach the House floor next week, where Republican leaders will be challenged to secure the votes needed to place the issue on public ballot.
Lawmakers face an April 30 deadline to present a school finance plan with adequate and equitable funding to the Kansas Supreme Court, and a recent study by consultant Lori Taylor recommended they add as much as $2 billion annually within five years.
A resolution introduced Thursday would alter the Kansas Constitution to allow the Legislature to determine how much money is needed to provide a suitable education and prevent courts from considering the issue.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said the amendment is a desperate play by Republican leaders who procrastinated while placing their bets on Taylor's report, which was revealed March 16.
"It's no secret that the concept of a constitutional amendment has been on the minds of legislators since the very first day," Carmichael said, "but it's only when the chickens have come home to roost, when the Taylor report arrives, that now, finally, this bad idea is being submitted for a committee's consideration."
He said he has grave concerns with the speed at which House Concurrent Resolution 5029 is moving.
On Friday, the resolution was assigned to the Judiciary Committee and scheduled for a Monday hearing. The committee would listen to testimony Tuesday before advancing the resolution Wednesday. Then, the House could take up the measure before leaving for its annual April break.
"If the objective of leadership here is to ramrod this through without sufficient deliberation or consideration or an opportunity for the public to even be aware of the proposed resolution, let alone express their thoughts, if that's the intention, well this is the way to do it," Carmichael said.
Gov. Jeff Colyer urged the Legislature this week to come up with a solution to end decades of litigation over school finance. Confronted with a question about the possibility of a constitutional amendment, he said "that would be one way of doing it."
To pass the House, two-thirds of of the 125 representatives would need to support the amendment. If all 40 Democrats oppose the measure, Republicans would need nearly unanimous support.
That, Carmichael said, "would be the most extreme example of party discipline that I have heard of." He said Kansas voters demonstrated their support for school funding in the 2016 elections, which included the retention of supreme court justices.
"I think politically it would be a mistake for moderate Republicans to capitulate to pressure from their leadership on a circumstance as important as this," Carmichael said.