Kansas legislators continue school bill talks

School Funding Fight

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislative negotiators said Saturday they hope to reach a quick agreement on a bill aimed at addressing increased funding for schools in order to satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court order and bring an end to the first part of the legislative session.

Three House and three Senate negotiators resumed talks over similar bills that would address the court’s March 7 ruling regarding aid to poor school districts.

The House plan would increase aid to the state’s poorest school districts by $141 million, offsetting the cost partially but not completely by adjustments elsewhere in the budget.

The Senate approved its own school funding plan that would boost aid by $129 million early Friday on a 23-17 vote. Republicans linked the new money to education policies such as blocking the use of multistate reading and math standards adopted by Kansas in 2010.

Those policy statements the Senate wants, which also include tax credits for school choice programs and weakening tenure protections for teachers, are proving to be sticking points.

Republicans leading the talks for both chambers said legislators are struggling to accept all the new spending and policy changes sought in the compromise.

“You talk about a horse pill. It’s a sizeable one for us,” said Rep. Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican leading the House team.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, offered Saturday to back away from a measure that would have stopped implementation of the Common Core Standards in its tracks. The provision has been sought in recent years by conservative legislators who fear the new guidelines cede too much authority over curriculum to federal authorities.

Both the House and Senate plans are responses to a Kansas Supreme Court order last month that directed lawmakers to increase aid to poor school districts by July 1. The court ruled in a lawsuit filed by parents and the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Kansas City and Wichita school districts.

“We’re having trouble choking down the volume of new spending,” Masterson said.

A three-judge district court panel that heard the case in 2012 will meet later this year to conduct further review of overall funding levels to determine whether the more than $3 billion in state support is enough to adequately educate students.

Masterson also offered a technical change to the teacher tenure policy. He said when it passed the Senate it was written to include all of higher education, as well. The change limits the policy to K-12 teachers.

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