Topeka With the ink barely dry on the official proclamation setting the special legislative session on school funding, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and House Speaker Doug Mays were at odds Thursday over how to proceed.
Sebelius, a Democrat, called on Mays, a Republican from Topeka, to have relevant committees start working on school finance before the June 22 start of the session. That is what the Senate is doing, and if the House did the same, it would give the Legislature a running start, Sebelius said.
"Work should start now," Sebelius told Mays, a potential rival in the 2006 gubernatorial election. "Any delay will cost the taxpayers money and hurt our schools," she said.
But Mays refused. He has said that all House members - not just members of certain committees - should start June 22 so that no one is left out of the decision-making process.
"Regarding an issue like this, you've got to have a consensus, and a consensus never forms until you get everybody here, and then it starts forming," Mays said.
He also said it has been a hardship on Republican committee chairmen to get their schedules in order to attend the session, so he doesn't want to call them in early.
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)
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, said he was outraged by Mays' decision, saying it would lead to "an inefficient, unproductive special session."
Sebelius called lawmakers back for the first special session since 1989 to address a Kansas Supreme Court order that the $2.8 billion school finance system is unconstitutional because it is inadequately funded.
Last week, the court rejected a Republican plan to provide a $142 million increase in state funding and instead ordered a total increase of $285 million, with the possibility of another $568 million next year. The court also rejected the GOP proposal to allow local school districts to increase local school property taxes, saying that would widen the gap between rich and poor districts.
Also on Thursday, Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, who has been uncharacteristically silent since the court order, broke his silence. Sort of.
Kline, the state's top attorney, said he has nothing to say about the decision until after Sebelius and lawmakers respond to the court order during the session.
"It's important to let the governor and Legislature work," Kline said in brief comments before dashing off to a meeting.
Kline, a conservative Republican, has often and loudly criticized judicial action against the Legislature in the school finance lawsuit.
Indeed, part of the state's arguments before the state Supreme Court was that the court couldn't tell the Legislature what to do.
Before the state Supreme Court ruled Friday, Kline had scheduled a news conference to discuss the results. But after the stunning decision, he canceled the news conference.
His office initially said he wanted more time to study the order, then said he had scheduling conflicts.
On Thursday, Kline said he will provide a briefing next week for lawmakers on what the order says.
Some legislators have argued the court overstepped its authority by requiring a specific appropriation, but Kline said he wouldn't get into that discussion at this point.
GOP meeting criticized
Meanwhile, a private meeting of Republican legislators in Wichita on Tuesday to discuss the court decision was criticized by Democrats.
"House Republicans won't hold public hearings in Topeka on school finance to help Kansas kids, but they will hold secret meetings in Wichita on how to defy the court and ignore our schools," Hensley said.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said between 30 and 50 lawmakers attended the invitation-only Republican meeting.
If the meeting included 32 House members, it would have to have been an open meeting with public notice under state law because that number means a majority of a quorum of the House was present.
Rachelle Columbo, a spokeswoman for Mays who attended the meeting, said she counted 22 lawmakers who attended.
At the meeting, conservative Republicans vented their anger at the court and discussed different strategies to fight the court order, according to Landwehr.
She said many Republicans believe it is unconstitutional for the court to tell the Legislature how much money to appropriate for schools.