House panel’s leader resigns over school bill

Rep. Marc Rhoades (KSN Photo)
Rep. Marc Rhoades (KSN Photo)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Rep. Marc Rhoades unexpectedly resigned Monday as chairman of the Kansas House Appropriations Committee in protest over a school funding proposal being negotiated among Republican leaders.

Rhoades, a Newton Republican, submitted his resignation to House Speaker Ray Merrick before the start of what was to be two days of hearings on a funding proposal aimed at satisfying a Kansas Supreme Court ruling issued March 7.

Rhoades was not in the committee when a lengthy amendment was introduced Monday that linked the K-12 spending to that for higher education. He issued a short statement saying the bill had “gone through numerous alterations outside the committee process without the committee once having worked the bill.”

He said the proposed spending would be unsustainable given current state revenues and went beyond the scope of what was needed to address the court’s concerns about equalizing payments to poor school districts.

“None of the spending is tied to measureable education outcomes,” Rhoades said in his statement. “I regret I see no option but, respectfully, to resign as chair of appropriations to allow leadership to move forward.”

Speaker Merrick, a Stilwell Republican who has been negotiating the plan with GOP Senate leaders and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, said he regretted Rhoades’ decision.

“I respect Marc and had complete faith in his abilities as chair,” Merrick said. “However, we will continue to move forward and work on an education plan that makes school funding equitable across the state

Merrick named Rep. Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican as chairman, and Rep. Marvin Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican, as vice chairman. GOP Rep. Joe Seiwert of Pretty Prairie takes Rhoades’ place on the committee.

The House proposal seeks to address two flaws in funding for poor school districts identified by the Kansas Supreme Court in a March 7 ruling. The court said the state must boost aid to poor districts by equalizing state spending for two funds that seek to level the educational playing field among all districts. The ruling came in the appeal of a lower-court ruling in a case filed in 2010 by parents and school districts alleging that the state’s level of funding for public schools was unconstitutional.

The court gave legislators until July 1 to make the changes, though legislators are expected to take a three-week break starting Friday. It was unclear if a proposal could be adopted by the weekend or if it would hold over until late April when legislators return.

The fix is estimated to cost $129 million, but the House plan would fund part of that increase by adjusting transportation aid to school districts, as well as other tweaks to the funding formula.

The Senate introduced a plan Monday morning drafted by its GOP leaders and hearings were expected to begin Tuesday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and chairman of the committee, said the goal was still to have the plan finished on time and that Rhoades’ resignation should not change those plans.

“I don’t think it affects how I’m moving forward. It just means I have someone different to negotiate with later on the bill,” he said. “I’m not particularly surprised.”

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