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Kansas Special Legislative Session Will Likely Stretch Close To School Closure Deadline

KHI News Service

The Vice President of the Kansas Senate says the special session set to gavel in on Thursday will probably stretch into early next week. That would move the Legislature even closer to a June 30 school shutdown deadline, and make the session longer than Gov. Sam Brownback suggested it would take to fix the inequity that exists between rich and poor school districts in Kansas.

“We’re probably looking at more like three to five days if all goes well,” Sen. Jeff King from Independence said on KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend.

King says Senate President Susan Wagle has advised Republican members that it will take at least a day for the Judiciary and Ways and Means Committees to complete their work. “Logistically, we won’t have anything for the Senate to vote on until at least Friday,” King said. 

There will be at least four competing plans to solve the equity issue now before the state Supreme Court and there may be more. The Legislature will also take up a constitutional amendment passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee that would prohibit the courts or the Legislature from ever closing public schools.

“So I think it’s going to be real touch and go to see if we’re even able to reach the deadline that the court generously gave us to comply with their court order by June 30, ” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley from Topeka.

Most plans will focus on how to find $38 million to put into the system. Many school districts will end up with more money but some will not. Most notably, the big three districts in Johnson County stand to lose a total of $4 million. Johnson County lawmakers have said they can't support legislation that would cost their schools money.

When Brownback called for the special session on June 7, he hoped to keep lawmakers focused on finding an equity solution that would satisfy the high court. “I will do everything I can to keep this session focused on education," he said in a statement.

Of course, the closer lawmakers get to the deadline, the harder it will be to vote "no" on any fix.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a moderate Republican from Overland Park, says she thinks the Legislature should work as long and hard as they have to to pass a bill as soon as possible.

"I'm looking forward to working around the clock and through the weekend in order to keep our schools open," she says. "I am sure that nobody in the Legislature would find it acceptable to take the weekend off in the midst of a crisis of these proportions."

Politics play into all of this. Many incumbents will be defending their seats in the August 2 primary. Also, Brownback and conservatives want to oust four Supreme Court justices; so whatever happens in the session will probably end up in campaign radio spots and postcards.

Guests on this episode:

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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