Kansas governor backs $520M schools plan blocked by Senate

photo by: Peter Hancock

Gov. Jeff Colyer speaks with reporters in this file photo from his first day in office, Feb. 1, 2018.

TOPEKA — Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer endorsed a Kansas House plan Wednesday that would increase spending on public schools by roughly $520 million over five years but that is being blocked by GOP state Senate leaders.

The House’s bill is a response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in October that the state’s current spending of more than $4 billion a year is not sufficient under the state constitution.

“On a dollar figure, I think the House bill is a good place that could help solve this issue,” Colyer told reporters, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Colyer spokeswoman Kara Fullmer later said the governor would sign the House bill if lawmakers sent it to him.

Senate President Susan Wagle, of Wichita, and Majority Leader Jim Denning, of Overland Park, do not plan to allow a debate on the House plan.

They said Tuesday that they do not believe the state can afford the higher spending without raising taxes within two years. House members backing the plan argued that its costs can be covered through the annual growth in state revenues.

Wagle and Denning also said the Senate would not debate any school funding plan until legislators first put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to curb the power of the courts to decide future education funding issues.

But Colyer has said repeatedly that lawmakers should approve a plan aimed at satisfying the court before taking an annual 2 1/2-week spring break scheduled to start Saturday.

The House Judiciary Committee was considering a proposed constitutional amendment that would strip the courts of their power to declare the state’s total spending on public schools to be insufficient.

Kansas has been and out of education funding lawsuits for several decades, and the last one was filed in 2010 by four local school districts. The Supreme Court has issued multiple rulings forcing lawmakers to increase spending, and GOP conservatives have sought regularly to amend the state constitution, without success. An effort by conservatives to oust four of the seven justices in the 2016 elections also failed.

Both houses must pass a constitutional amendment by two-thirds majorities to put it on the ballot for a statewide vote. Republicans have the necessary supermajorities in both chambers, but conservatives and moderates are split over an education funding amendment. Democrats strongly oppose such measures, seeing them as an attack on the courts and public schools.