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Archive for Wednesday, April 6, 2005

School advocates want nearly $1 billion, special master

April 6, 2005

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— The Legislature's school finance bill is now in the hands of the Kansas Supreme Court.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius today criticized the legislation but sent it to the court for review.

"Whether this bill meets the Legislature's constitutional responsibility is for the court, not for me, to decide," said Sebelius, who refused to sign the bill.

"As governor, I believe the Legislature's school funding plan is neither responsible nor sustainable. It jeopardizes the state's finances, as well as jobs and economic growth throughout Kansas," she said.

The proposal was hand-delivered to the court's clerk in a manilla envelope by Sebelius' chief counsel Matt All and stamped received at 1:40 p.m.

Last week, lawmakers approved the plan, which would increase state funding to schools by $125 million.

It was already under fire from plaintiff school districts that sued the state over school funding.

Alan Rupe, the lead attorney for the schools, asked the state Supreme Court to find the bill unconstitutional and replace it with a $1 billion spending increase.

The measure passed by the Legislature in response to a court order ignored crucial directions from the court, Rupe argued in a new filing with the court.

"These students should not be forced to wait another minute to receive what our constitution guarantees them," Rupe said.

"The time to act is now, and the Legislature has made it abundantly clear that this court must do what the Legislature is unwilling to do ..." he said.

In January, the court ruled the Legislature had failed its constitutional duty to provide suitable finance for schools. It gave lawmakers until April 12 to increase funding and make the distribution of schools funds more equitable.

Rupe said the legislative plan failed to provide adequate funding to meet the needs of at-risk, bilingual and special education students.

The legislative plan, which allows local districts to increase local property taxes, would also widen the disparity in funding between poor and wealthy districts, he said.

Rupe requested that the court enforce a temporary order that implements a consultant's report, which calls for approximately $1 billion in additional state spending on schools.

He also asked for a special master to recommend changes in the school finance plan.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, defended the legislation, saying it represented a "good-faith effort" and the largest increase in school funding since 1992.

He said if the court has problems with the plan, the court should provide "clarity on what we've done well and we've not done well."

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