Legislators on an interim committee studying school finance could mull changes to the Kansas Constitution altering the way the Supreme Court oversees K-12 funding and present the Legislature with tax and spending options to increase education funding.
The committee will meet three times by the end of the year to provide recommendations to legislators, who — by April — have to respond to a Supreme Court ruling that found K-12 funding unconstitutional. The court said the Legislature’s new school finance formula was both inadequately funded and unfairly distributed between schools. Some Republican legislators have expressed frustration over the court’s role in school finance and would like to see its authority changed.
Committee members are tasked with looking at a range of options, including how much to spend on schools, where spending can be cut elsewhere in the budget and whether taxes should be increased. Democrats said they were worried Republican leaders were primarily interested in a Constitutional amendment that would alter the court’s authority over schools.
The Legislature passed a new school funding formula this spring to comply with a Supreme Court decision in March that found funding unconstitutional. The new formula was found unconstitutional last month. Legislators also passed an income tax increase expected to bring in $1.2 billion over two years to roll back tax cuts championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
Senate Republicans said another such increase was “not going to happen” in a joint statement immediately following last month’s ruling. They said it showed a “disrespect for the legislative process and puts the rest of state government and programs in jeopardy. Senate President Susan Wagle did not return a request for comment.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said the committee would look at a range of options, including other parts of the budget where the Legislature has long-term funding obligations and limited dollars. He said the interim committee would help legislators hit the ground running in January.
“I just think they’re going to try to skirt their Constitutional duty and attempt to amend Article Six,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.
Hensley said he didn’t think a Constitutional amendment would garner much support from legislators or from voters if it were to be passed and placed on the ballot for approval. He said 33 amendments have been introduced since 1993.
“It just never has gotten on the ballot, at least since 1993,” Hensley said.
Article Six of the Kansas Constitution requires the Legislature to provide a suitable education for Kansas children. With frustration growing over the court’s continued involvement in school finance, some Republicans are interested in altering that.Ryckman said one of the options is to let Kansas voters help define what is “suitable.”
Bunker Hill Republican Rep. Troy Waymaster, chair of the House Appropriations Committee and a member of the school finance committee, said he’d like to see the Constitution amended to more specifically define the Legislature’s duty.
“I think it needs to be more specific in regards to — what do we account as quality education for K-12 education,” Waymaster said.
Waymaster said he thought any vote on an amendment would be neck-and-neck.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said he didn’t think an amendment had much support. He said he didn’t think the committee had enough moderate Republicans.
“We’re on a clock, and it seems to be a waste of days instead of getting to work,” Ward said.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican, said she thought the discussions over complying with the Supreme Court ruling and those over an amendment were separate issues. She said the Legislature’s work was due to the court this spring, but an amendment couldn’t appear on ballots until next fall.
“Quite frankly, I am more concerned at this point with the task at hand,” Baumgardner said.
The Legislative Coordinating Council also approved $400,000 to hire an outside expert and an attorney to assist each chamber with its school finance work.