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New Kansas School Funding Formula Hits Political Delay

Sam Zeff
Kansas News Service

The chairman of the K-12 Budget Committee in the Kansas House promised that a new funding formula would be approved Monday and sent to the floor so the measure would be considered before lawmakers leave for a three-week break.

Turns out, politics got in the way.

The state Supreme Court ruled in early March that thecurrent system is constitutionally inadequateand said it will shut down public schools June 30 if the Legislature doesn’t develop a new funding plan.

Legislative leaders wanted to hire former Sen. Jeff King of Independence to help committee members with the constitutionality of the bill.

But King ran into some unexpected opposition in the Legislative Coordinating Council.

Majority Leader Rep. Don Hineman, a Republican from Dighton, called King “highly political.” Hineman says he’s looking for someone to advise the committee who is “above politics.”

It takes five of the seven council members to approve a hire.

The two Democrats on the council — House Minority Leader Jim Ward and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley — were expected to oppose King. Without Hineman, a moderate GOP member, it appears King’s appointment is dead.

Rep. Larry Campbell of Olathe, chairman of the K-12 committee, says he doesn’t want to press forward without a “constitutional lawyer” on board to advise committee members.

“I don’t want to kick out a bill with constitutional problems,” Campbell says.

But Rep. Melissa Rooker, a moderate Republican from Fairway, suggested the committee could turn to other lawyers.

On Twitter, she said: “We stand ready to complete the job in committee. Chairman wants an attorney present. 3 staff attorneys & attorney on the committee.”

The funding bill, as it currently stands, would add $750 million to public education over the next five years. Many educators and lawmakers don’t believe that’s enough money to satisfy the court.

Alan Rupe, the lawyer for the districts that sued the state, says $150 million a year over the next five years is inadequate and even the Kansas State Department of Education says it will probably take $800 million over two years to make Kansas schools adequate.

“If they dig a little deeper and reach a little higher with their goals, they can save a generation of Kansas kids,” Rupe says.

Despite the delay, Campbell says he expects to have a bill passed Friday by the full House. After that, lawmakers will take three weeks off before coming back to Topeka to finish their work on the budget, taxes and, perhaps, school funding.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KCUR.org.

Sam covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service. Before joining the station in August 2014 he covered health and education for KCPT.