Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed overhaul of the school finance system may have to be held over for another year — or two or three, a key legislator said Friday.
Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, said there was “weak support” for Brownback’s plan on the Senate Education Committee.
“So the logical choice is to refer it to an interim committee for further study,” Vratil said.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said one of the major concerns is that Brownback’s plan will lead to significant increases in local property taxes.
Brownback has proposed eliminating state limits on local property taxes for education. He says that would give local residents more say in how much is spent on schools, but critics contend it will create greater disparities between rich and poor districts.
Vratil said he supports Brownback’s plan, but that many other senators have problems with it. He said it could take up to three years for the Legislature to resolve issues in the governor’s plan.
When asked what he thought about one of his major proposals being held over for further study after the current legislative session, Brownback gave mixed messages.
On one hand he said he could live with whatever the Legislature decided, but on the other, he said, it would be better for the Legislature to approve his plan now because of a pending school finance lawsuit that is set to go to trial June 4.
“Once you have that case decided by the lower court, your options of how you deal with things get substantially restricted,” Brownback said.
“Your best time to deal with this is before you go to trial. As an old attorney and litigator, the time to settle something is before you go to trial, rather than afterwards,” he said.
But the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, which includes 55 school districts, say that the main issue is not the school finance formula, but the level of funding put into the formula.
Based on a previous Kansas Supreme Court decision, the Legislature approved a three-year funding increase to schools, but before the final year was allocated the Legislature started cutting education funds.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said he doubts an interim study could salvage Brownback’s plan.
He noted that most school officials oppose Brownback’s proposal, except for a couple of school districts in Johnson County.