Kansas House Judiciary panel advances constitutional amendment on school funding

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The House of Representatives chamber of the Kansas Statehouse is pictured July 23, 2014 in Topeka.

? A proposed constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature exclusive authority to determine how much money constitutes “adequate” funding for public schools is now on its way to the full House.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced a revised version of an amendment that was only introduced six days earlier, and has been subject to only one public hearing.

The motion to advance the measure passed 12-10.

Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, who chairs the committee, introduced new language Wednesday that leaves in place the central purpose of the original proposal: to make sure that only the Legislature can determine what constitutes adequate funding for public schools.

But the new language also clarifies that courts would still have authority to review whether the funding is distributed equitably among districts.

The vote to advance the measure to the full House came on a day when work toward a compromise school funding package for the upcoming school year and beyond virtually ground to a halt after Republican leaders in the Senate said they would not consider any funding proposal until the Legislature passes such an amendment.

The vote also comes against the backdrop of a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in October that declared current funding levels both inadequate and unconstitutional. Lawmakers are now under a deadline to pass a funding plan that will meet constitutional muster, and to present that new plan to the court by April 30.

Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, a member of the Judiciary panel, said the Senate’s action demonstrated to him the need for judicial review of school funding, and he vowed that he would vote against the proposed amendment.

Supporters of the measure, though, said they believed it was important to pass the measure so voters could decide which branch of government should be in charge of deciding how much to spend on public schools.

It wasn’t immediately clear after the vote when the full House would take up the proposed amendment, but Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, told reporters after the meeting that it would not be debated on the floor this week.

Lawmakers are tentatively scheduled to adjourn the regular session on Friday and then take a three-week break, but Republican leaders in the Senate have said they will not take up a larger school funding bill until both chambers pass a constitutional amendment.