Sebelius signs school bill

? Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday signed into law a $148.4 million school funding increase, but indicated it may take several more years to achieve court compliance in the school finance litigation.

Alan Rupe, the lead attorney for plaintiff school districts, disagreed with Sebelius.

“The message is loud and clear from the Kansas Supreme Court; adequate funding needs to be achieved in the 2006 legislative session,” Rupe said.

Earlier this year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the school finance system was un-constitutional because it was under-funded and the funds were unfairly distributed.

The court ordered a $285 million increase, figuring that was one-third of a consultants’ study that said the state needed to spend $853 million more to provide an adequate educational system.

The court gave the Legislature time to conduct a study on the true cost of education, and said it may impose the remaining two-thirds – $568 million – next year.

In addition to an earlier appropriation, schools will receive an approximately $290 million increase for the coming school year, in a $3 billion system.

At a bill-signing ceremony Wednesday at Meadows Elementary School in Topeka, Sebelius was asked how the state could come up with the forecast school funding increases.

“We have to look at a multiyear education investment and dedicate resources to that investment,” Sebelius said.

She added, “I don’t think anyone is suggesting that a one-time check has to be written or it has to be done in one fell swoop.”

But Rupe is suggesting just that.

“The governor is looking at this through a political set of glasses. I’m looking at it through glasses in context of the constitution,” he said.

He said the Kansas Supreme Court’s order in the lawsuit, which was first filed in 1999, means that lawmakers need to achieve an adequate level of funding “sooner not later.”

On the issue of finding additional resources for schools, Sebelius called for lawmakers to approve expansion of casino gambling. And, she said, the current economic rebound could help provide enough funds.

But, she said, it was difficult to forecast because of the pending cost study on education.

The $148.4 million funding increase that was approved during a special legislative session has received the court’s OK as an interim step.

Sebelius said the school finance legislation “is really about the future of Kansas.

“Children will have better schools in every community and a doorway to better and more productive lives in the future, and our economy will benefit from a well-educated workforce.”

The Lawrence school district is expected to receive at least $5.1 million more in state aid. School board members and administrators are discussing how to spend those dollars.

At Meadows Elementary in Topeka, Principal Cathy Kesner said she hoped the increase in funds in that district could be used, in part, to increase after-school tutoring programs.