Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says he will call state lawmakers back to Topeka for a special session to work on school funding issues. In a statement, Brownback said he made the decision after consulting with legislative leaders.
Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley says the governor’s priority is avoiding a school shutdown caused by a lawsuit over school funding.
“They’re going to work very hard to keep the special session focused on the issue of education to make sure the courts do not close our schools and the kids can go back to school,” says Hawley.
Brownback hasn’t yet set a date for the session, but says it will happen this month.
The Kansas Supreme Court says lawmakers need to reduce funding disparities among school districts. If lawmakers don’t, justices say the school funding system will be unconstitutional and schools will be closed at the end of the month.
Lawmakers already made one attempt to comply with the court. They shuffled education spending earlier this year with the goal of reducing disparities. The court then said that wasn't enough and more action would be needed to avoid closing schools.
Democrats in the Legislature started a petition this week aimed at forcing the governor to call a special session. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley helped push that effort.
"It appears that Sam Brownback is finally listening to the people of Kansas who are very concerned about keeping schools open in August. However, it remains to be seen whether he and Republican legislative leaders want to comply with the Gannon equity order in a bipartisan way," says Hensley.
Republican House Speaker Ray Merrick has harsh words for the the Supreme Court. He isn't giving specifics, but his comments make it seem unlikely lawmakers will simply comply with the court by providing more funding.
"The Kansas Supreme Court has made their desire to close Kansas schools crystal clear. Their willingness to use Kansas children for their own political gain is despicable," says Merrick. "Despite the Courts attempts to stir up fear, it’s not going to happen. During the upcoming special session Republicans will ensure that schools remain open while at the same time upholding the Kansas constitution and not bowing to judicial overreach."
Hensley is concerned that view could mean further legal wrangling.
"Will they once again push through legislation that sets up yet another confrontation with the Kansas Supreme Court? The parents and children of Kansas deserve much more than to play politics with fairly funding our schools," says Hensley.
Stephen Koranda is a Kansas statehouse reporter based at Kansas Public Radio in Lawrence, Kansas.