State attorney lends urgency to school finance debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSN CAPITOL BUREAU) – Lawmakers are looking at all their options on how to pay for K-12 Education following the Supreme Court’s ruling this fall.

Now, the state’s attorney wants Kansans to weigh in on the impact of a constitutional amendment.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt told lawmakers on the special committee on school finance before considering moving forward with any changes to the state constitution they should ask Kansans what they think.

“My recommendation is that the legislature consider making a recommendation to the people to modify article six, but the people would ultimately have to decide at the ballot box, that’s the way the process has to work,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt said he has started drafting language for a constitutional amendment change at the request of some lawmakers, however he thinks lawmakers shouldn’t request a change to weaken the court’s authority. A potential constitutional change could prevent the courts from closing schools.

In October, the Supreme Court ruled the state wasn’t giving enough money to schools. While the Supreme Court didn’t give lawmakers a number on what would be enough, the attorney for the school districts involved in the case requested an additional $600 million.

“I think that’s the number that gets closest to what the court would accept so I think that’s what we need to point towards,” said David Smith with Kansas City Kansas Public Schools.

Kansas City,  Kansas Public Schools is one of the districts suing the state, Smith says with less money districts have had to cut programs impacting student’s futures.

“This is going to allow us to do the things that our kids need to graduate prepared for college and careers,” said Smith.

Republican State Representative Steven Johnson says talking about a constitutional change could be beneficial and could help lawmakers narrow their options.

“I think it’s a useful discussion, so having a chance to talk about it I think not only among the legislature, but among the people of Kansas is great,” said Johnson, R-Assaria.

Democratic State Senator Anthony Hensley said he’s against a constitutional change.

“Unfortunately, we have had a lot of litigation, but that’s mainly because the legislature hasn’t fulfilled its constitutional duty. We haven’t adequately funded schools for a long time,” said Hensley.

Schmidt says he has started drafting language for a constitutional amendment change at the request of some lawmakers, however he thinks lawmakers shouldn’t request a change to weaken the court’s authority.

The Supreme Court gave lawmakers an April 30 deadline, however the Attorney General’s office suggests lawmakers have a course of action in place by March 1.


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