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Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2014

Davis says state needs to come up with $129 million for schools; Republicans have not committed to dollar amount

March 13, 2014

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— House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence on Thursday called on the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback to restore $129 million to schools to satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court order to equalize funding for poor school districts.

"After years of waiting for Gov. Brownback to properly fund schools, Kansas kids deserve action," said Davis, who is running for governor against Brownback, a Republican.

In last week's ruling, the court said the Legislature failed to equalize funding to low-wealth school districts and gave the Legislature until July 1 to fix the problem or face the possible loss of $1 billion, or nearly 25 percent of total school funding.

Under current law, the poorer districts have been shorted $130 million.

Davis said legislators should allocate that amount because it would provide more equal education opportunities for students, and some property tax relief.

Brownback and Republicans who control the Legislature haven't committed to a dollar figure to meet the court decision.

"That's going to be one that needs to be discussed in the Legislature," said Brownback.

GOP leaders and House and Senate budget committee members said lawmakers probably won't increase overall state spending by the full $129 million that the state Department of Education estimates would cover deficiencies in aid to poor school districts.

The state could tap its cash reserves to cover all of the extra costs, but half a dozen key Republican legislators said they oppose such a move or don't think the GOP-dominated Legislature would approve it. They said alternatives include shifting existing funds for public schools around or cutting other parts of the budget.

"It's not likely that we just whip out the checkbook and write a check off of the taxpayers' account," said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, also a Republican, said the court decision did not mandate a specific amount.

"There may be different ways in which the Legislature responds," Schmidt said. "One would be by appropriating the full amount, another would be by changing the statute, another would be by appropriating something less than the full amount."

Davis said Democrats will introduce bills in the next day or so to fund the $130 million. He said the funds would come from the state's current balance.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee has scheduled several days of hearings next week to focus on school finance.

The court also ordered more lower-court hearings on whether the state is spending enough money overall on schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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