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Lawmakers Pass 'Fix' To School Funding, With Worries About Court Response

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Kansas News Service
Lawmakers have finally signed off on a school financing plan, including restoring money they'd meant to include a few weeks ago. Whether it will satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court remains unknown.

Gov. Jeff Colyer has what he wanted — a bill to make sure schools get a funding increase of more than half a billion dollars is headed to his desk.

But senators who took the final vote Monday weren’t too happy about what they passed. Across party lines, some were already predicting an emergency legislative session in their near future.

Colyer praised lawmakers for finishing a second school finance bill this session to correct an $80 million error in the first.

“I look forward to signing this,” he said in a statement.

The question now is whether the spending plan will pass muster with the Kansas Supreme Court. The justices have ruled that the state must prove it’s doing enough to help tens of thousands of kids struggling with math and reading.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley thinks it doesn’t. But he took what he called “the most prudent approach.”

“Vote for the bill and let the court play its role,” he said.

So why wouldn’t the court sign off on the bill?

Lawyers for the school districts suing the state think K-12 education needs more than the $530 million infusion to make any significant dent in the number of students who falling behind in school. Some lawmakers suspect the court will agree.

Others worry that the legislation they passed doesn’t do enough to create change in schools, to better serve those underachieving kids.

Some pointed to a provision in the bill designed to make the court view more than half a billion dollars that schools collect by taxing homes and other local property as state funding.

Members of both parties were doubtful the added money would make a seven-year-old lawsuit disappear.

“We’re playing games a little bit here,” Sen. Steve Fitzgerald said. “It’s going to come across that way.”

The average taxpayer doesn’t care how the state labels various taxes, Fitzgerald said. They’re all still taxes. As for the Supreme Court, he said, nothing short of changing the state constitution will put an end to the series of rulings that have found schools underfunded.

A vote on amending the constitution to curb school finance lawsuits doesn’t look likely by the end of this year’s session on Friday.

“That was the House’s project,” Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said. “By all indications, they don’t have the votes to proceed.”

Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

I write about how the world is transforming around us, from topsoil loss and invasive species to climate change. My goal is to explain why these stories matter to Kansas, and to report on the farmers, ranchers, scientists and other engaged people working to make Kansas more resilient. Email me at celia@kcur.org.
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