TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Thursday deadline is approaching for Gov. Sam Brownback to make a decision on whether he will sign a bill increasing spending for Kansas public schools.
The Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling March 7 giving legislators until July 1 to restore funding for two school finance provisions that give more state aid to poor districts.
Legislators finished work on the bill April 6 then recessed until late April. The measure that would end teacher tenure and now faces building pressure from opponents and supporters, increases spending by more than $129 million, funds separate programs at state colleges and universities and makes changes in education policy, including teacher employment rights.
Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the bill appears to satisfy the initial court ruling on equalizing aid payments and legislators won’t have to do more work on funding this session.
“I would tend to think we are out of it. I think it is pretty clear that they satisfied the court order and did what had to be done,” Tallman said.
Brownback, a Republican, said he wanted legislators to send him a bill that addressed the court’s concerns about equal funding treatment for all districts. He wanted much of the money to get to the classroom, though $78 million will go to property tax relief for districts and $73 million will be new classroom spending.
Television ads from Brownback’s supporters have been touting those figures even before the bill was signed, proclaiming the governor’s ability to push the bill through.
Road Map Solutions, a nonprofit group supporting Brownback, began airing the ad late last week, said David Kensinger, the group’s president. It’s running on cable and broadcast stations in Topeka and Wichita, and will continue through at least early next week. Kensinger said the group plans to spend between $80,000 and $90,000.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” Kensinger said of the bill’s passage. “We wanted to make sure that people know about it.”
The Republican governor has kept his intentions to himself, despite making statements during stops at state universities touting investments in research and other programs. He was to appear Monday at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., to tout legislative approval of $25 million in bonding authority for a new education building.
John Robb, a Newton attorney who represented the four school districts and associated parents in the 2010 lawsuit, was still studying the bill to get a read on its impact.
“I suppose the governor can take a victory lap for the equity piece and wait for the lower court to rule on the adequacy piece,” Robb said.
The Kansas Supreme Court remanded the case back to a three-judge district court panel to determine if overall education spending, currently more than $3 billion in state dollars, was adequate to satisfy the constitution.
Robb thinks the lower court will move quickly to review the funding bill, but said those changes could impact how overall funding is viewed. He said new provisions allow certain districts to leverage more in local property taxes.
Brownback praised the plan immediately after its passage, pointing to the new dollars for schools. But the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union and a vocal critic of the plan, has said the issue is not money but protecting due process for teachers.
The funding plan eliminates the right for teachers who’ve been in the classroom at least three years to have an administrative hearing if they are facing dismissal from their jobs. KNEA argues that administrators in the future won’t be required to give a reason for firing a teacher, regardless if the reason is because of performance or expressing their political or religious views.
Brownback was still not commenting on the teacher tenure provisions Thursday, saying, “We’ve got further reviews going on.”
Tallman said the organization’s legal staff was advising school boards to “exercise caution” regarding tenure.
“This goes beyond what any of our members, frankly, thought was possible,” he said. “It may have to work its way through the courts.”
KNEA officials have vowed to challenge the law if a tenured teacher is dismissed using the new language going forward.
Robb said provisions regarding tenure and changes to the teacher licensing process were “unfortunate collateral damage and I don’t know that they play into what the court will review.”
“They were just totally unnecessary components to the bill. The only reason they are there is to punish teachers and schools,” he said.