Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday said she would sign into law the three-year, $466.2 million increase to public schools and hoped the Kansas Supreme Court would dismiss the lawsuit that has forced lawmakers to increase funding.
Sebelius called the school bill a "good-faith effort."
"I would prefer that they dismiss the lawsuit. It's never comfortable operating under the shadow of a court jurisdiction," she said.
In the long-running legal battle, the Kansas Supreme Court declared the school system unconstitutionally underfunded, especially for low-income districts. Last year, the court ordered increases in school funding and told the Legislature to follow an education cost study in subsequent years.
Alan Rupe, the lead attorney for plaintiff school districts, said he would challenge the new bill that was approved by the Legislature on Tuesday because it provides less than half of the amount that the cost study recommended and also fails to adequately fund the low-income districts.
Sebelius will get the bill within the next 10 days and is expected to sign it quickly.
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)
The focus will then turn to the state Supreme Court.
Rupe said he would soon ask the court to set a briefing schedule to analyze the new law.
Ron Keefover, a spokesman for the court, said he expected the court to act quickly on the measure. "As soon as they can, I'm sure," he said. Last year, Sebelius called a special session after the court ordered more funding.
Weseman not impressed
Meanwhile, Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman got his first long look at the bill's spreadsheets and said there's not much extra for Lawrence.
The Lawrence school district, with 10,000 students, will receive about $2.8 million in additional funding from the state next year.
Much of that, however, will be dedicated to specific purposes, such as special education and programs for students at risk of failing.
"It doesn't leave much for discretion," Weseman said.
As a comparison, Weseman noted that 20 miles west, the Topeka school district, with 12,600 students, will receive $7.7 million in additional funding from the state.
That's because Topeka's rate of students living in poverty is about twice that of Lawrence's, plus it has a lot more students who are learning to speak English.
"I'm not complaining that the money went to those districts, but the reality is that what is left is what it is," he said.
The bill allows districts to use their so-called "at-risk" funding to pay for full-day kindergarten - that comes to $787,119 for Lawrence - but Weseman said the allowance is deceptive.
"That is a smokescreen," he said. The district has more than 3,500 at-risk students, and Weseman said he couldn't devote all the at-risk funds to start up full-day kindergarten.
Sebelius said she was disappointed that the bill didn't provide the funding of full-day kindergarten. "I'll continue on those initiatives as we move forward," she said.
But Sebelius said one of the strengths of the new finance bill was that it provided money for three years.
The Legislature, however, frequently cuts multiyear plans in the future years because of revenue problems or shifting budget priorities. The new plan is paid for based on the assumption that tax revenues will continue to grow.
Sebelius, however, said the plan's funding was ironclad. "I am absolutely committed as governor to making sure that happens," she said of the funding.
House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, however, said lawmakers would reassess school funding each session to see whether cuts or increases in the plan were needed.
"The school finance debate will continue each year," he said.
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.
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