Plaintiffs respond to GOP school finance bill

? The Republican school finance bill would lead to more litigation because it includes a “hodgepodge of bad ideas,” plaintiff school districts in the education lawsuit said Saturday.

“We don’t have time to cram several ideas into a single bill,” said John Robb, an attorney representing Schools for Fair Funding, which filed the school finance case in 2010. “The Legislature needs to fund equalization very soon. Kansas has a funding formula that works if it’s properly funded.”

On March 7, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to restore $129 million in equalization aid for poor districts by July 1. But it said if the Legislature does anything short of that, the equity issues in the case would be remanded to a three-judge trial court for review.

It also remanded back to the panel the larger issue in the case — whether the state is providing adequate funding for all schools — with instructions to decide that issue using a different standard. The lower court had previously ruled that overall funding was inadequate and ordered an increase of at least $450 million per year in base education funding.

Robb cited several provisions of the bill that would raise new constitutional issues in court, including language aimed at influencing how courts should judge future school finance lawsuits.

He also said a provision granting school principals authority to award merit-based pay for teachers infringes on the authority of local boards of education. And he cited a provision that reduces equalization aid to poor districts in the future for bond and interest payments.

“This is amazing in the face of (the) new equity standard,” Robb said.

In its ruling March 7, the court said that for funding to be equitable, “School districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.” Without sufficient equalization aid, the court said, lower-wealth districts have to levy substantially higher property taxes than wealthier districts in order to raise similar amounts of money.

Finally, Robb noted, a provision in one version of the bill opens the door for more charter schools in Kansas “which would be exempt from education standards set by the State Board of Education.”

On Friday, though, GOP leaders admitted that provision was included in the bill by mistake, and they said they intend to introduce a new bill without that language.

But they also said individual legislators are free to offer amendments as the bill progresses through the Legislature.

House and Senate budget committees are expected to begin working on the GOP bill Monday.

Rep. Marc Rhoades and Sen. Ty Masterson, the respective chairs of those committees, did not immediately respond Saturday to requests for comment.