TOPEKA Key lawmakers today agreed on a $148.4 million public school funding increase aimed at satisfying a Kansas Supreme Court order that has raised the possibility of shutting schools.
"We have a clean bill that will fund schools," state Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said.
Legislative leaders said they may be nearing agreement on several issues as the session entered its 12th day, and picked up after a three-day break.
The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled the school finance system unconstitutionally inadequate and ordered lawmakers to increase school funding by $143 million.
The court set a deadline of July 1, which the Legislature broke, and has now called sides in the lawsuit to a Friday hearing to determine whether to close schools to try to force compliance.
Lawrence school Supt. Randy Weseman, in a letter to board members, said the district was making preparations on what would need to be done should the Supreme Court close schools.
Weseman said he was hopeful the Legislature would approve a finance plan, but added that he had to prepare for court action. "To ignore this possibility is, in my opinion, irresponsible," he said.
A committee of House and Senate negotiators recommended the $148.4 million school finance plan, which may be voted on by both chambers later tonight.
Lawmakers also will probably vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent the Kansas Supreme Court from shutting schools as a remedy in school finance litigation.
"This would protect the kids from being used as pawns," House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said.
But others had misgivings about advancing an amendment with little public discussion and debate, especially one that could limit legal rights.
"If someone has been harmed by government, is it right to take away remedies under the law?," House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney of Greensburg said.
Earlier proposals sought by conservative Republicans, including Mays, made any school funding increase contingent on the House and Senate advancing a proposed constitutional amendment that prohibited the courts from telling the Legislature to appropriate funds.
But Mays said that linkage has been abandoned after 11 days of deadlock.
Proposed amendments require a two-thirds' majority in both the House and Senate before they can be placed on the ballot for voter consideration.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius urged lawmakers to focus on complying with the court order.
After three days of criss-crossing the state, Sebelius said Kansans told her that the Legislature needed to fund schools.
"The public absolutely knows that the Legislature is back in session," Sebelius said. "They can't figure out what has been going on for 12 days, and they can't figure out how many more days it's going to take because they see it as pretty simple -- the Legislature needs to come in, fund the schools and come back home."
More about school finance
- Webcast of live arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court (requires Windows Media Player)
- Brief of the Montoy suit (.pdf)
- Timeline of events in school finance lawsuit
- 6News video: School finance bill to face court
- Plaintiffs: School finance bill fails grade (06-13-06)
- State wants high court to dismiss school suit (06-02-06)
- Legislature approves school finance plan (05-10-06)
- Chat with Bob Corkins, Kansas Education Commissioner (02-02-06)
- House roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan (07-07-05)
- Supt. Weseman's contingency plan (07-06-05)
- More about school finance »
- Conference Committee on Senate Bill 549
- House bill info
- Senate bill info
- Kansas public schools cost study
- Kansas public schools cost study executive summary
- Public Education Finances 2004 (.pdf)
- Senate roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan
- Supreme Court's Show Cause Order (07-02-05)
- Supreme Court's Order Denying Extension (.pdf)
- Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
- Supplemental Note on Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)