Archive for Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Legislature approves school finance plan

Attorney: $466M doesn’t satisfy court order

May 10, 2006


— State lawmakers approved a three-year, $466.2 million increase for public schools to set up a possible showdown with the Kansas Supreme Court, and expected to end the 2006 legislative session today.

The school funding plan passed in dramatic fashion Tuesday after a lockdown in the Senate that lasted 45 minutes with the vote stuck at 20-18.

Two legislators were absent -- one was believed to be out of state -- and the Senate was waiting for them to show up.

Then Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer, switched his vote to yes to give the measure the required 21 votes right before midnight. Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, raced back to the Capitol to vote against the proposal to make the final 21-18 margin.

O'Connor said she would have arrived earlier but was stopped by a Highway Patrol checkpoint on the turnpike.

"I guess it was a sobriety check," she said. "They looked at me and let me go."

Lawmakers will return today to consider tax cuts for businesses. The Legislature will be in its 15th day of the wrapup -- one short of the record 16 days in 2002.

Passage of a school funding bill was a major breakthrough, but also may have set up a possible special session this summer if the Kansas Supreme Court disapproves of the plan. The court has ordered increased funding.

Hillcrest School second-graders Angel Rushubirwa, foreground, and Khushi Ahuja, right, work on a background for their class play. The Legislature on Tuesday approved a three-year, $466.2 million increase for public schools that falls short of the funding the Kansas Supreme Court has recommended.

Hillcrest School second-graders Angel Rushubirwa, foreground, and Khushi Ahuja, right, work on a background for their class play. The Legislature on Tuesday approved a three-year, $466.2 million increase for public schools that falls short of the funding the Kansas Supreme Court has recommended.

Alan Rupe, an attorney for the plaintiff school districts that successfully sued for more funding, said he would challenge the measure, which falls far short of a court-recommended study on the actual costs of education.

"It's not enough," Rupe said of the funding, adding that the increased monies are "in the wrong places."

"What has happened, to no one's surprise, is the House and Senate have politicized a process that the courts have indicated are not a political process," Rupe said. "They need to focus on the costs of education."

Too late for all-day?

The measure also may have come too late for hundreds of children in Lawrence who start kindergarten in August.

Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman had wanted to start full-day kindergarten then, but because lawmakers wouldn't commit to funding more than the current half-day kindergarten, Weseman pulled the plug on the proposal Monday.

How they voted

Here is how area legislators voted on the three-year, $466.2 million school funding plan. The House approved it 66-54; the Senate, 21-17, although one more no vote was expected later.

House Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, Yes Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, No Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, Yes Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, Yes Joe Humerickhouse, R-Osage City, No Ann Mah, D-Topeka, Yes Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, Yes Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, No

Senate Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, Yes Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, Yes Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, Yes

"I'm going to start a task force so that whenever the money gets right we're ready to go," he said.

Under the new plan, Lawrence will get a $2.8 million increase from the state in the coming school year and will be able to raise more local property taxes for schools.

Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, voted for the proposal, which passed 66-54 in the House, partly, he said, because he thought the bill would allow the Lawrence district to reconsider full-day kindergarten.

"It gives Lawrence flexibility so that they can use some funds for all-day kindergarten and other programs that seem popular in the community," he said.

In the Senate, Lawrence senators - Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, and Roger Pine, R-Lawrence - supported it.

"The most important thing to many of our school boards and school districts and schoolchildren is to be able to plan for the coming year," Francisco said.

"I've been in support of education for a long time. The challenge is to do that and balance the budget at the same time and be fiscally responsible.

"I felt like we had gone as far as we were probably going to go," Pine said.

Cost study comparison

The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled the $3 billion school finance system unconstitutional because of underfunding, especially to large districts with high percentages of low-income students.

The court has told lawmakers to use a cost study to guide their appropriations.

But the plan fails to meet the price tag rung up by the cost study that was done by the Legislative Division of Post Audit.

That cost study called for a $400 million increase next year, while the Legislature's three-year proposal would increase funding by $194.5 million next year.

The plan also falls far short of funding what the cost study recommends for programs that serve students who are at risk of failing.

And the study called for $53.8 million to be divided among four urban school districts that have a high proportion of poor students. The new plan allocates $22.7 million and spreads that over 37 school districts.

But House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said he thought the proposal did a good job of matching up with the study's goals.

"I don't think it's all that far off from the Post Audit," he said.

Sloan agreed: "It addresses the issues raised by the Supreme Court last year as we move toward equal educational opportunities."

Rupe said that obviously wasn't true.

"The plan doesn't measure up," he said. "The Legislature has started dividing in half all the numbers to get to a political compromise."

Odd coalition

The proposal was carried in the House by an odd coalition of Democrats, who have voted for bigger increases, and mostly rural Republicans, who have voted against bigger increases.

But on this plan a number of the rural Republicans moved over to the "Yes" column because the plan included significant increases in base state aid per pupil, which helps their smaller districts.

A number of Johnson County Republicans, who earlier had teamed with Democrats for larger plans, were left out in the cold. Many Johnson County legislators have sought the authority of unlimited local property taxes to increase school aid. But that provision is capped in the bill.


rminear68 12 years, 1 month ago

What the !#@$%@&@ was she doing at home? Apparently her staff told everyone she was in western Kansas at the time. Seems like dirty politics to me....she didn't want this to pass...and when it did, she raced in to get her NO vote on the role.

This is just one of the many reasons why the JOCO republicans are killing us in the legislature.


bmwjhawk 12 years, 1 month ago

KOC is a moron. The bible must have told her to do it.

erichaar 12 years, 1 month ago

Thank you to those legislators who STOOD UP to the Queen Kathleen and the liberal Kansas Supreme Court.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 1 month ago


Sounds like the Kansas Legislature is taking direction through Washington D.C. and your employer Jim Ryun. Washington D.C. republicans laid the lions share of the cost for the very expensive No Child Left Behind on the local districts as if money somehow magically appears.

GardenMomma 12 years, 1 month ago

I'm just glad that SOME funding got approved. It certainly should be more. $289 per student (and some districts are getting much less than that) increase really is not that much. I bet books and supplies cost at least that much per student.

Oh wait! I forgot, since we aren't teaching any real science and health classes anymmore, that little increase should just about cover it.

But seriously, it's about time they approved something. It's just too bad that it couldn't be more. I'd love an all-day kindergarten. And it's too bad that the education of our children has become so political, what's that going to teach our children?

jafs 12 years, 1 month ago

It's clear that the Bush administration doesn't care about the education of our citizens. If it did, it would be providing federal funding to help the schools comply with the NCLB legislation. Setting standards for education is an idea I agree with in principle, but it requires money to put it into practice. While the rich are getting richer (due to tax cuts and corporate welfare), public schools are struggling. What does that tell us about the current administration's priorities?

Todd 12 years, 1 month ago

Public education is not a federal responsibility. The Department of Education shouldn't even exist. The Constitution was twisted to make get the Feds involved in the first place and now it appears to be tradition. State/local politicians love it since they can get relected while the voters point the finger at DC for screwing things up.

Wake up. NCLB is an unfunded mandate at best and states should opt out of it like Utah did.

rhd99 12 years, 1 month ago

To the Republicans in the Kansas Legislature after this stunt you pulled in this school funding plan debacle YOU created: SCREW YOU ALL! MAYS, MORRIS, SCHMIDT, see you all in COURT, Republican LOSERS!

erichaar 12 years, 1 month ago

Jim Ryun voted against No Child Left Behind because he forsaw it as the money pit it now is. He also voted against the costly Medicare Prescription Drug Bill.

jafs 12 years, 1 month ago

If educating our citizens isn't a legitimate purpose for the federal government, I don't know what would be - and if it regulates education through federal mandates, then it seems to me it has an obligation to help fund them. How have our priorities as a nation gotten so out-of-order? We are subsidizing the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class?!

GardenMomma 12 years, 1 month ago

More money does not equal more education. More money equals better facilities/supplies/opportunities for better education.

As always, it is how the money is spent that will make the difference. However, the money has to be available in order to be spent.

yourworstnightmare 12 years, 1 month ago

Wow, I'm surprised they passed a budget bill without some rider banning some aspect of sex and/or science. Seems they just can't resist to address social issues in budget bills.

Some conservatives. Activist right-wing liberals is more like it.

GardenMomma 12 years, 1 month ago

To Pilgrim: I read your lips. Now read mine: "As always, it is how the money is spent that will make the difference. However, the money has to be available in order to be spent."

I say again, in order to better our schools, the money has to be available and once available, wise heads must spend it even more wisely; which, I agree, is most likely easier said than done.

And by the way, are you implying that all the schools in KCMO are receiving enough funding and are still turning out poorly educated students? If so, why do YOU think that is? And do you think Lawrence can do better? If not, why not?

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