Lawmakers say special session will happen or schools could close

Classroom (Media General photo)

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Lawmakers have one more day in the legislative session. But, will they make changes to school finance, or will they go into a special session?

“You’ve got until June 30, to remedy this problem. And we’re now watching the clock tick away to June 30,” says Alan Rupe, a Wichita attorney who helped several schools with a lawsuit over school funding.

Rupe says Friday’s Kansas Supreme Court ruling means lawmakers will have to act on fixing funding between rich and poor school districts. If not, then schools will shut down.

KSN is asking lawmakers if the schools will close or if action will be taken.

“And this is a monstrous issue, when you have a (state) Supreme Court that could potentially close down our schools which is over 50 percent of the state budget,” says Senator Michael O’Donnell of Wichita. “We’re definitely in a very precarious spot. But that still means we need to do our due diligence as well.”

O’Donnell points out that the Attorney General Derek Schmidt has said lawmakers have met their obligation to fix the equity between rich and poor districts.

But, other lawmakers say schools could still shut down, because the courts have offered a mandate to lawmakers to add more money to schools, or the schools will be defunded by July 1,

“The governor and legislature must get to work immediately to keep our schools open,” says Jim Ward of Wichita. “Parents, grandparents, students and teachers demand action on this critical issue. It would be unconscionable to address anything (Wednesday) tomorrow but the crisis facing our schools.”

The governor has the ability to call for a special session, though the governor’s office has not said if that will happen.

O’Donnell says that some lawmakers have asked the attorney general of Kansas for opinions on the funding fix offered by lawmakers. And, he says, they are not ruling out appealing the Kansas Supreme Court ruling to a higher court.

“And, absolutely the Supreme Court is the law of the land, and I have a feeling, when push comes to shove, we will look at other opinions as well,” says O’Donnell. “Because right now, we continually have the fight over separation of powers, and you see arguments from the court that says we’re overstepping it and arguments from lawmakers that saying they are overstepping it. And the truth always lies in the middle a little bit. There has been punitive measures brought out by lawmakers to punish the courts, if you will, and I voted against the bill this year because it seemed like too much of a retaliatory move. But at the end of the day, the court is putting the legislature in corner when the legislature is ultimately in control of the state budget.”

Rupe says, it’s now in the lawmakers court to make the call on school funding. And, he says, schools could shut down if a fix is not offered out of Topeka.

We asked Rupe if schools shutting down is a realistic possibility.

“Well, I’ll sound like a lawyer when I answer that, it depends. The Kansas Supreme Court has indicated the schools will not be operating under an unconstitutional system,” says Rupe. “And when June 30th rolls around, unless the matter is fixed, there’s really not much else that can happen other than when the funding stops, the schools stop operating.”



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