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Archive for Saturday, May 20, 2006

Governor signs school finance bill into law

State Supreme Court will now review measure’s constitutionality

May 20, 2006

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— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Friday signed into law the three-year, $466 million school finance plan, calling it a "historic commitment" to education.

But before the money gets to the schoolhouse, it has to make a stop at the courthouse where the Kansas Supreme Court will determine whether the spending plan is constitutional.

Last year, the court ruled the school finance system underfunded all districts, especially those with lots of low-income students.

The court accepted a $290 million increase in the $3 billion system as a down payment on what an education cost study said would be needed in additional funds.

That study, conducted by the Legislative Division of Post Audit, recommended a $400 million increase in one year.

Alan Rupe, an attorney representing low-income districts that successfully sued the state, said he will ask the court to reject the plan signed by Sebelius.

Early next week, he said, he will request a briefing schedule before the court to get the matter rolling.

"We're going to have an exhibit sticker on the legislative post audit, and point out the differences between the actual costs of educating kids with needs, and then what the Legislature did.

"It's a pretty significant contrast," he said.

Renewed battle

That cost study called for a $400 million increase next year, while the three-year proposal would increase funding by $194.5 million during that period.

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

And Rupe said he will point out that while the funding level fails to meet the audit report, the Legislature approved hundreds of millions of dollars of tax cuts to businesses.

"The continual statements of the legislative record were that the Legislature couldn't afford to do more, and this should be considered a good-faith effort.

"It is somewhat disingenuous to give away money on one hand and claim that you are strapped with the other," he said.

But Sebelius stood behind the measure.

"This historic commitment to our children's schools will help every child in Kansas, and it will help close the gap for children in poverty," she said in a prepared statement.

Sebelius said the funding measure makes a "good-faith effort to follow the guidelines of the legislative cost study."

She said she was disappointed the bill did not allow local communities more leverage to enhance school spending, and that it didn't require all-day kindergarten.

She pledged to continue to work on those issues and has asked the 2010 Commission, which provides recommendations on school finance, to focus on finance weightings given to low-enrollment districts, large districts, and the additional costs of educating students learning English.

Lawrence perspective

State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, called the measure "a good compromise."

The Lawrence school district will get an approximately $2.8 million funding increase for the next school year, much less than the $7.7 million that the slightly larger Topeka school district will get. Topeka gets a larger increase because it has a much larger number of students in poverty.

Democrats and some Republicans had supported a larger $558 million plan that would have allowed more local funding in districts like Lawrence and those in Johnson County. But that proposal failed to pass the Senate.

Although some districts did better than others, Ballard said children at risk of failing will get much-needed increases in funding for programs directed at them, regardless of what district they attend.

"Districts may not get all of the monies they were hoping for, but at least they will get specific monies for the at-risk students that they have," she said.

'Shortchanges everybody'

Despite the accolades heaped on the bill by its supporters, there was no signing ceremony for the measure, which is unusual for major legislation. No legislator asked for a signing ceremony, Nicole Corcoran, a spokeswoman for Sebelius, said.

Kathy Cook, executive director of Kansas Families United for Public Education, said the spending plan failed on many fronts.

"About the only good thing you can say about this plan is that it is nondiscriminatory. It shortchanges everybody," Cook said.

"It shortchanges suburban and urban communities, and it shortchanges the entire state by ignoring the rule of law and the constitutional mandate to fund the actual cost of educating our children," she said.

But some have suggested that with Sebelius and the Legislature supporting the new law, the state Supreme Court will agree with them.

Rupe, however, didn't buy that argument, drawing on the example of segregation battles of the 1950s and 1960s.

"I don't think that deal worked for segregation in Alabama. I think the governor and Legislature back then were all for segregation but the court didn't see it that way. It's a system of checks of balances; it's not how many branches vote for something."

Comments

bmwjhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

This law violates the State Constitution, setting the state up for another frustrating Summer.

From the Kansas Constitution: "The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state."

When the Legislators--once again-- asked independent experts what "suitable" is and didn't like the answer, they chose-- once again-- to ignore the findings.

It's too bad that the Congress-- and now, the Governor-- don't want to do what's right. They are concerned with re-election.

In a response to those who claim that unelected judges are legislating from the bench, I will argue the value of the fact that our justices can make decisions on what is right, not on what will get them another term.

If Kansans don't like the fact that this law is unconstitutional, they must lobby their representatives to change the Constitution. Take out the word "suitable" and any education finance plan will work.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 8 months ago

I say take it to court and let the lawyers work it out.

Our governor did what she had to do in order to keep funds flowing. A fully funded five year plan is something to keep in mind for the future.

Our legislators like using this matter for their annual "tool" to keep themselves in the news. The controlling majority are a waste of tax dollars.

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