Archive for Thursday, June 9, 2005

School finance decision puts wheels in motion

June 9, 2005

Lansing Schools Super-intendent Randal Bagby said he was pleased by last week's ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court directing the Legislature to double the money for the state's public schools by July 1. But Bagby is not counting on the extra money just yet.

"I think it's kind of a wait-and-see thing," he said. "The legislators might do what they're ordered or get stubborn."

The court surprised lawmakers Friday when it issued its long-awaited order.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius summoned Kansas state legislators back to Topeka for a special session to begin June 22 in order to comply with the court order.

The court ordered the Legislature to provide public schools an additional $143 million in funding in time for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1 both for the state and for school districts. The 2005 Legislature already had passed a bill increasing school funding by $142 million in response to an earlier court order.

In its decision, the court also struck down parts of the school-funding bill that would allow certain districts to raise property taxes.

"As of this time, the Legislature has failed to provide suitable funding for a constitutionally adequate education," the court said in its unanimous decision.

Bagby said he was "in total agreement" with the court's decision, to strike down the provisions in the bill for school districts to raise local property taxes because "it's a state responsibility" to provide the money, he said.

Kansas Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, said the court's response to the bill was not what he had hoped for.

"I'm disappointed in their decision, but I respect the court," Wilk said.

Wilk said he recognized that the Legislature had not passed "the ideal plan," but he said he questioned the authority of the court's order.

However, Wilk said he planned to "play by the rules because the rules are established."

"I certainly don't think we can ignore the ruling," Wilk said, "nor do I think we will."

Kansas Sen. Mark Gilstrap, D-Kansas City, said he didn't expect the court to agree with the bill, but he said he was surprised by the $143 million figure that the court demanded.

In its ruling, the court said it had based its order on a 2001 study by independent consulting firm Augenblick & Myers that was commissioned by the Legislature. However, many legislators - including Wilk - had discounted the validity of that study.

The study, Wilk said, was intended to determine the cost of a "suitable" education. Wilk said he never supported the study because, in his opinion, it expanded the statutory definition of "suitable." He said it represented more of a wish list by educators.

Wilk said it would be possible for the Legislature to meet the court's demand of $143 million by using its current funds but that doing so would put the state budget into peril for the next fiscal year. The problem, he said, is that the money given this year becomes base funding that will have to be paid every year.

Rep. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth, whose district includes parts of Lansing, said she thought that the Legislature could meet the demand this year with existing revenue, but she said that the payment wouldn't be sustainable for a second year because the state has bonds coming due next year that will have to be paid. She said she supported looking at the expansion of gaming as a future source of revenue.

Wilk said that before the House and Senate meet for the special session, which is the first since 1989, some "heavy lifting" would have to be done by committees. Gilstrap and Ruff agreed that the committees would have to come up with a bipartisan plan to meet the deadline.

Ruff said she expected a tough road but said she was prepared.

"I'm just going to go in full body armor ready to do battle," she said.

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