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Archive for Thursday, April 7, 2005

School finance plan delivered to state Supreme Court

April 7, 2005

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— The fate of funding public schools is now in the hands of the Kansas Supreme Court.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday sent the Legislature's attempted fix of the $2.7 billion school finance system to the state's highest court for review.

She refused to sign the Republican plan and criticized it as inadequate and irresponsible.

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

"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.

An attorney for school districts whose lawsuit put the issue before the court has now asked the justices to appoint a "special master" to find the proper repairs to the school finance system and honor a consultant's recommendation calling for an extra $1 billion yearly be spent for public schools.

'Good-faith effort'

The plan approved last week by the Legislature would increase school funding by as much as $127 million by tapping increased tax receipts and dipping into existing cash reserves.

While it contains no statewide tax increase, it would allow local districts to increase property taxes by nearly $500 million.

With the school finance bill in hand, Matt All, chief counsel to
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, descends the Statehouse steps headed
for the Kansas Supreme Court across the street. All hand-delivered
the bill to the court on Wednesday in Topeka.

With the school finance bill in hand, Matt All, chief counsel to Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, descends the Statehouse steps headed for the Kansas Supreme Court across the street. All hand-delivered the bill to the court on Wednesday in Topeka.

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

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

But the proposal was met with criticism by plaintiff school districts before the court.

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.

Rupe said in a new filing with the court that the legislative plan ignored crucial directions from the court, such as basing funding on the actual cost of providing an education instead of political considerations, and increasing disparities between wealthy and poor districts.












"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.

Effect on Lawrence

Through state aid and increased local property taxes, the Lawrence school district could gain approximately $3.6 million under the plan to be weighed by the court, but Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman said he couldn't stomach the proposal.

"It is disequalizing the distribution of monies across the state in such a way that is unprecedented," Weseman said.

He said the Legislature "didn't meet anything the court said."

In addition to allowing local districts to raise property taxes, it allows the "Sweet 17" districts, including Lawrence, to raise more taxes for teacher salaries. The districts, mostly in northeast Kansas and around Wichita, have high property values, where housing costs are well above the state average.

Matt All, left, chief counsel to Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius,
hand-delivers the school finance bill to Carol Green, clerk of the
Kansas Supreme Court, Wednesday.

Matt All, left, chief counsel to Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, hand-delivers the school finance bill to Carol Green, clerk of the Kansas Supreme Court, Wednesday.

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.

In keeping with the historic nature of the moment, Sebelius' chief counsel, Matt All, on Wednesday personally carried the legislative plan in a manila envelope addressed to Chief Justice Kay McFarland from the Statehouse over to the Kansas Judicial Center. He handed it to court clerk Carol Green. She stamped it received at 1:40 p.m.

Ron Keefover, a spokesman for the court, said the court would probably issue a statement April 12 to go over its timetable for producing a decision.

The speculation now is over what the court will do and whether it will provide a response to the legislative plan by April 27, which is the start of the Legislature's so-called wrap-up session.

The court, which normally has seven judges, is now down to six because of last week's death of Justice Robert Gernon of Lawrence, who died of complications from cancer.

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