Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2014

Legislative committees delay action on school finance fix

March 20, 2014


— Kansas House and Senate budget committees delayed work Thursday on bills to address a Supreme Court order to increase funding for poor school districts.

Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, who chairs the House panel, and his Senate counterpart, Ty Masterson, of Andover, both said they are still drafting base bills that will be used as the vehicles for addressing the court case.

The Court ruled March 7 that the state needs to increase “equalization aid” funding that subsidizes the Local Option Budgets and capital outlay budgets of poor districts. Because of cuts enacted since the start of the Great Recession in 2009, those two programs are now underfunded by about $129 million, creating wealth-based inequities that the Court said are unconstitutional.

Although the Court did not identify a specific dollar amount that would be needed to fix the constitutional problem, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Gov. Sam Brownback, both Republicans, have urged lawmakers to restore the full funding.

Masterson said the Senate Ways and Means Committee will begin discussing the bill Friday. Meanwhile, his committee began working on other parts of the budget Thursday and recommended $13 million be swept out of other programs to go toward school finance.

Those included $8 million previously earmarked for the Kansas Bioscience Authority; $3 million in disaster relief funds; and $2 million that Gov. Brownback had recommended adding to the state housing trust fund.

The Supreme Court has given lawmakers until July 1, the start of the next fiscal year, to fix the problems in LOB and capital outlay funding. If they fail to come up with a solution that meets constitutional muster by that point, the court said the entire LOB mechanism for school finance could be halted, a move that would cost school districts more than $1 billion statewide, or roughly 25 percent of their total operating budgets.

— Scott Rothschild contributed to this report.


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