The Kansas Senate's rolling toward a consequential floor debate on a school-finance bill with justices of the Kansas Supreme Court among keen observers.
A committee in the Senate produced legislation supplementing the state's $525 million, five-year investment last year in public schools with a series of $90 million bonuses during the next four years to comply with a Supreme Court instructions to add the inflation adjustment. The bill would earmark $360 million extra to K-12 schools in anticipation the justices would declare the Kansas school system fully constitutional.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said Monday the Legislature and governor should bring an end to the "endless cycle of school-finance litigation" so lawmakers could properly address other critical state government needs.
"We’ve had riots in prisons, children missing in foster care, highways deteriorating and a growing mental health crisis all because our money is going to one single entity," Wagle said.
The Supreme Court expects to receive legal briefs on the inflation fix by mid-April and conduct oral argument on the package in May. In previous rulings, the justices declared they possessed authority to close the 400,000-student Kansas public school system if lawmakers refused to abide by the Kansas Constitution.
Wagle has said a state court-ordered school closure would be the kind of judicial overreach capable of fueling a federal lawsuit to make certain children continued to go to school.
The Senate's consideration of Senate Bill 142, perhaps as early as Wednesday, became tricky when Schools for Fair Funding attorneys working with four plaintiff school districts in the school equity case demanded inflation payments be compounded annually. Under that scenario, the inflation correction would require $90 million the first year, $180 million the second, $270 million in the third and $360 million in the last year.
"It's absolutely impossible," Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican and Senate education chairwoman. "But that's what Schools for Fair Funding is demanding."
Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, and the Kansas State Board of Education didn't endorse School for Fair Funding's revised request. Last week, the governor said she would stick with financial provisions contained in the Senate bill.
Mark Tallman, advocacy director for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said Senate Bill 142 offered a meaningful chance to resolve current school-finance litigation and restore Kansas school aid to levels necessary for more students to be successful.
"We believe addressing this final step should be the top priority of the 2019 Legislature," Tallman said. "That is why we believe the state board proposal is an appropriate, but modest and minimal plan to the 2009 levels."
The Kansas Parent Teacher Association, a nonpartisan volunteer organization, also endorsed Senate Bill 142 because it would strengthen the state's commitment to constitutional obligations to make equitable and adequate provision for educating Kansas school children.
"Every year legislative games are played and insufficient, unpredictable funding is perpetuated, Kansas children suffer," said Amy Robinson of the Kansas PTA.
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