The Latest: Brownback defends call for merit pay for teachers

Kansas Statehouse (KSN News)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – The latest on developments Thursday in the Kansas Legislature (all times local):

6:15 p.m.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is defending his support for using a new school funding formula to encourage local districts to enact merit pay systems for teachers.

The Republican governor responded to comments Thursday from Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka.

Hensley is a teacher and said he opposes merit pay because merit pay systems are marked by favoritism. He also said legislators should focus on issues that unite educators when they draft a new law for distributing more than $4 billion in aid to the state’s 286 school districts.

Brownback said Hensley is dismissing merit pay too quickly. He said lawmakers should hold hearings on merit pay systems and learn where they’ve worked.

Lawmakers aren’t sure how far they’ll get this year in drafting a new school funding law.

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Noon

The first bill to clear the Kansas Legislature this year and go to Gov. Sam Brownback designates Cowley County as the state’s stone bridge capital.

The House approved it on a 118-1 vote Thursday. The Senate unanimously approved the measure last year.

Brownback told The Associated Press that he hasn’t reviewed the bill but believes he’d able to sign it.

The measure says Cowley County in south-central Kansas is home to 18 stone arch bridges built before 1910, and all but one still carry traffic daily.

The only vote against the measure came from Republican Rep. Craig McPherson of Overland Park. He said he prefers not to clutter up the state statutes with items that can be handled in legislative resolutions.

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11:15 a.m.

A Senate committee has approved a bill to keep state courts open following a legal dispute involving the judicial branch’s budget.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s unanimous voice vote Thursday came about an hour after the House Appropriations Committee passed an identical bill.

Senate leaders expect the full chamber to vote on its measure next week.

The bill repeals a 2015 law threatening all court funding.

The law was passed by Republican legislators and tied to a statute they enacted in 2014.

The 2014 policy stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to appoint chief district court judges in the state’s 31 judicial districts. The 2015 law said the judiciary’s entire budget was nullified if the 2014 law was struck down.

The Supreme Court last month invalidated the 2014 law.

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10:55 a.m.

The Kansas Senate’s top Democrat says lawmakers should pass a new education funding law this year.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said Thursday that legislators should work with school superintendents on a new formula for distributing more than $4 billion in state aid to the state’s 286 school districts.

Republicans who control the Legislature last year junked the state’s old, per-pupil formula in favor of “block grants” for districts. They meant the new law to be temporary and set it to expire in July 2017.

Democrats had a Statehouse news conference to discuss their vision for this year’s legislative session, stressing their support for public schools and retaining teachers without offering specifics.

Republicans are divided over whether lawmakers should try to pass a new school funding law this year.

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9:50 a.m.

A Kansas House committee has approved a bill aimed at keeping state courts open following a legal dispute involving the judicial branch’s budget.

The Appropriations Committee’s unanimous voice vote Thursday sent the measure to the full House for debate.

The bill repeals a 2015 law threatening all funding for the courts through June 2017.

The law was passed by Republican legislators to follow up on a statute they enacted in 2014.

The 2014 policy stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to appoint chief district court judges in the state’s 31 judicial districts. The 2015 law said the judiciary’s entire budget was nullified if the 2014 law was struck down.

The Supreme Court last month invalidated the 2014 law.

GOP lawmakers said they don’t want to close the courts.

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4:05 a.m.

Two legislative committees are considering bills aimed at keeping Kansas courts open following a legal dispute involving the judicial branch’s budget.

The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee were having hearings Thursday on separate but identical bills repealing a 2015 law threatening all funding for the courts through June 2017.

The law was passed by Republican legislators to follow up on a statute they enacted in 2014.

The 2014 policy stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to appoint the chief district court judges in the state’s 31 judicial districts. The 2015 law said the judiciary’s entire budget was nullified if the 2014 law was struck down.

The Supreme Court invalidated the 2014 law in December.

GOP lawmakers have said they don’t want to close the courts.

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4 a.m.

Democrats are preparing to outline their agenda for this year’s session of the Kansas Legislature.

House and Senate Democrats scheduled a joint news conference for Thursday morning to outline what they’re describing as their vision for the state.

Democrats in the past have focused heavily on education and economic issues, such as increasing the state’s minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City also plan to respond to budget proposals outlined Wednesday by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Lawmakers opened their annual session Monday.

Republicans hold majorities of 32-8 in the Senate and 97-28 in the House and won every statewide and congressional race in the past six years.

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