Archive for Friday, January 30, 2004

Senate panel supports bill for fast appeal of school finance ruling

January 30, 2004

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— A narrowly written bill allowing for a quick appeal of a judge's ruling on Kansas' school finance system was endorsed by a Senate committee Thursday and sent to the full chamber for debate.

The measure would let the state file an appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court even though the Dec. 2 order by Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock was "preliminary." Normally, a preliminary court order can be appealed only if the judge agrees, which Bullock declined to do.

Bullock held that Kansas' school funding formula violates the state constitution by apportioning aid to districts unfairly and yielding too little money to educate all children adequately. Kansas spends about $2.6 billion on aid to schools but should spend about $1 billion more, he ruled.

Bullock gave the state until July 1 to amend the formula. Some lawmakers want the Supreme Court to rule before they make major changes, although Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has proposed a three-year, $304 million package of tax increases for schools.

The bill endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee provides for an appeal to be filed with the Supreme Court if a preliminary district court order says a Kansas law violates the state constitution's education article. That language would expire July 1, 2006.

"The general thought is that we need to get a final decision from the Supreme Court as soon as possible," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Vratil, R-Leawood, one of the measure's authors, said Thursday. "All we have now is one judge's opinion."

Sebelius still wants legislators to amend the finance law this year, spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said Thursday.

"There's a problem that needs to be solved," Corcoran said. "We're working to try to solve it, and we encourage them to do the same."

Meanwhile, the Senate's taxation committee agreed to sponsor Sebelius' $304 million education plan and scheduled hearings on it for next week.

Legislative drafters are still putting the proposal into a bill, which will be printed in time for a joint meeting Monday of the Senate's education and taxation committees, said Sylvia Robinson, the governor's education policy director.

The Assessment and Taxation Committee will then hold hearings on the bill Thursday and Friday, according to Chairman Dave Corbin, R-Towanda.

Sebelius has proposed to raise taxes on income, sales and personal property over three years and send the expected $304 million in fresh revenue to public schools for specific purposes.

Corbin's committee will focus on the proposed tax increases. The Senate Education Committee will then debate the measure's other provisions, including higher funding for bilingual students and a $100 increase in state aid per pupil.

Sebelius has withdrawn one part of her original plan -- a proposal to change the way special education funds are treated, by lumping them into general state aid to school districts.

Such a change would immediately raise the figure for state aid per pupil by $434. But it drew immediate opposition from districts that said it would cost them millions of dollars in aid.

The governor has asked House Education Chairwoman Kathe Decker, R-Clay Center, to discuss the special education proposal in her committee and in a special committee currently studying school finance.

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