TOPEKA, Kansas – Lawmakers are doing some major maneuvering behind the scenes in Topeka this week trying to find $130 million.
The Kansas Supreme Court mandated funding to be paid to equalize funding discrepancies between rich and poor districts in K-12 education.
“If the legislature votes to equalize it, and I’ve heard either a $130 or $135 million, then at that point the court somewhat backs off,” says Democrat House member Jan Pauls from Hutchinson. “And (funding) will allow us to tinker with other parts of the school finance packet. But if we don’t make that payment or agree to make that payment, at this point, the whole school finance package could be set aside by the court.”
Pauls says that could spell trouble.
“Disaster,” says Pauls. “There has been some talk about constitutional crisis, and if for some reason the legislature just wants to, if (lawmakers) people want to thumb their nose at the court, on the House side, then that makes it very difficult.”
Pauls points to a 2005 court case where the courts said lawmakers were not adequately funding K-12 schools.
The governor’s office says it will not get to the point of the courts stepping in again.
A spokeswoman from Governor Sam Brownback’s office says the governor is pushing lawmakers to fund the $130 million.
“He is making it clear, this needs to be funding,” says Sara Belfry. “But the governor also says his idea for all-day kindergarten will likely go away if that happens.”
Brownback has proposed funding $16 million to fund all-day kindergarten.
House Speaker Ray Merrick is spending this week trying to get a deal done. It reportedly includes meetings with Senate President Susan Wagle.
Some lawmakers in the House say, the court order can not be ignored.
“Well, first of all, we shouldn’t need a court decision to tell us we need to properly fund our public schools. I think we have a moral obligation to do that, and this debate has been going on for a number of years,” says Democrat House Member Paul Davis of Lawrence. “Right now, we have the ending balance to fund that, and I don’t think we should rob other pots of school dollars in order to fund that $130 million, or take it out of teacher pensions or take it out of our highway fund. This is an issue that time is of the essence and we need to act by July 1.”
Lawmakers have until the end of next week to get it done before they recess for the veto session near the end of April.