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Lawmakers React To Kansas Supreme Court Ruling On School Funding

Stephen Koranda, File Photo
Kansas Public Radio

The Kansas Supreme Court says the state is not funding public schools fairly and has given the Legislature until the end of June to fix the problem. 

Republican Sen. Jeff Melcher criticized Thursday's ruling.

“It’s not unexpected. It’s essentially a temper tantrum by the courts to push their political will on the Legislature. It’s one of those things where ‘give us the money or the kid gets it,’” Melcher says.

Credit Stephen Koranda / KPR
Jim Ward speaks to a committee at the Statehouse in this December 2015 file photo. He said lawmakers should start working now to make fixes to the school funding formula after the state's high court ruled it was not equitable.

Democratic Rep. Jim Ward of Wichita says lawmakers should immediately start working to address the problem.

“Put reasonable people in the room and say, how do we address the financial crisis that has created all these problems, one of which is not funding schools equitably," Ward says. "And then, how do we fund schools equitably?”

Republican House Speaker Ray Merrick calls it unlikely lawmakers will simply appropriate more funding for schools. He says they’ll consider various ways to comply with the ruling.

Related: KS Supreme Court Rules State Has Not Funded Education Equitably

If the legislature doesn't comply and reduce disparities between school districts, the court threatens to close public schools.

Republican House Speaker Ray Merrick says the courts are overstepping their bounds. He says appropriating money is a job for lawmakers.

“A couple weeks ago they talked real loud about the separation of powers. I guess that doesn’t apply when they want to get involved in our business,” Merrick says.

Republican Rep. Melissa Rooker says the courts are doing their job by interpreting state law, and she says the solution is probably more funding for schools.

“Their ruling today affirms my own personal beliefs and voting habits. I don’t think we’ve met our constitutional obligation,” Rooker says.

Merrick called the timing of the ruling questionable, as it came out the same day both chambers are voting on budget plans. A spokeswoman for the courts says the ruling was released Thursday because it was ready.

Stephen Koranda is the managing editor of the Kansas News Service, based at KCUR. He has nearly 20 years of experience in public media as a reporter and editor.