Topeka Two weeks after the Kansas Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to increase school funding, and days before a special session, legislators Friday were tripping over themselves to get their plans front and center.
"I guess that's encouraging," Lawrence school Supt. Randy Weseman said.
But Weseman said he was less encouraged about the substance of some of the proposals.
The Kansas Supreme Court has declared the $2.8 billion school finance system unconstitutional because it shortchanges students, especially those in poorer districts. Republicans, who hold majorities in the Legislature, increased funding by $142 million, but the court said that still fell $143 million short and gave the Legislature until July 1 to bridge the gap.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has called lawmakers into a special session starting Wednesday. An unexpected increase in state tax revenues is expected to be enough to cover the court order, although Sebelius also has called for expanded casino gambling to produce revenues for next year when more funds probably will be needed for education.
One plan has tax relief
On Friday, a group of prominent Senate Republicans produced the first legislative plan since the Supreme Court decision.
What's the plan?
On Friday: ¢ Six Republicans outlined a proposal to increase state education spending by $150 million. ¢ Two Democratic senators discussed their party's plan to provide an additional $144 million for schools. ¢ Three GOP senators from Johnson County also announced a $143 million plan.
The proposal would increase funding by $110 million - $33 million short of the court order - and provide $40 million in property tax relief.
"I don't understand how that meets the court order," Weseman said.
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said he didn't think the Legislature had to comply with the court order.
But Schmidt added that the proposal - also supported by Sens. Jean Schodorf of Wichita, Dwayne Umbarger of Thayer, Pat Apple of Louisburg and Vickie Schmidt of Topeka - did address many of the court's concerns.
It would increase base state aid to schools and provide more funds for special education and programs for at-risk students. And, he said, the additional state money would buy down local property taxes in poorer areas, in effect narrowing the gap between rich and poor districts, which was cited as a problem by the court.
Under the proposal, Lawrence schools would receive an additional $3.8 million in state funds for the coming school year, but no property tax relief.
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 liked some aspects of Schmidt's proposal, but added, "The question is, does that $40 million in property tax relief constitute additional school funding and is it in compliance with the Supreme Court order?"
The Senate Democratic plan would increase school funding by $144 million. Under that proposal, Lawrence would get an additional $4.5 million in state aid.
Alan Rupe, a Wichita attorney who represented plaintiff school districts that won the case, said the Schmidt plan had some positive and negative aspects.
"It looks like they're adding money where it needs to be added: at-risk, special ed and the base state aid," Rupe said.
But one provision in the Schmidt plan was unfair, Rupe said. It would prohibit school districts from spending general fund revenue on litigation against the state.
"I guess the strategy for them is to come close to the Supreme Court order and then choke off the plaintiffs so they can't fund any additional litigation," he said.
Another plan was forwarded by a group of Johnson County Republicans and would favor more wealthy districts, such as Johnson County and Douglas County. Their proposal would reinstate options for districts to increase local property taxes, although those provisions were struck down by the court.
Conservatives plan rally at Statehouse
Topeka - Conservative Republicans plan to rally today at the Statehouse to protest the Kansas Supreme Court decision to increase school funding. In a unanimous decision, the court said a Republican school finance plan failed to meet constitutional muster, and it ordered lawmakers to increase school funding by $285 million by July 1. Lawmakers will meet in a special session starting Wednesday to address the court order. On the Kansas Republican Assembly Web site, the group said ralliers should tie the court decision to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat. "In order to be effectual with the press, we recommend that only two versions of signs be made that have the wording, 'Stop the Kansas Sebelius Court' or 'Stop the Activist Sebelius Court.'" Of the six justices on the court, Sebelius has appointed one. The rally is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.