Kansas School Finance Plan Goes to Brownback

sam_brownback

The Kansas Senate recently approved a bill that will change the way the state pays for schools, and the bill is now on its way to the desk of Governor Sam Brownback for his approval.

The vote, which came in at 25-14, puts the state one step closer to a courtroom battle over school funding.

The end of last week saw a district court suggesting that it could step in and put an end to the policy change as it comes to a decision in a lawsuit brought to the court by area school districts. A nonbinding ruling decided upon earlier in the court states that Kansas must spend at least an additional $548 million on schools across the state, writes Bryan Lowry for Kansas.com.

Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers feel the courts are overstepping their bounds and inserting themselves into the legislative process.

“It’s quite astounding what they’ve done and clearly out of line,” Senate President Susan Wagle said. “Clearly they’ve shown that they’re an activist court and they’re trying to insert themselves in the legislative process before the bill even becomes law, which is just unheard of in this state and nationally.”

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley referred to the bill as an unconstitutional attempt by the governor to avoid court orders for equal funding for Kansas schools.

The bill, SB 7, would put an end to the school finance formula currently used by the state, which puts money aside for particular costs, including transportation and bilingual education.  Instead, flexible block grants would be offered to districts, which could result in more money being given directly to classrooms.

Despite this, very few districts support the bill, which comes with a reduction in funding for the current year.  Financing would be locked in place for the next two years until a new formula is implemented.  The block grants would expire in 2017.

“We (board members) need to take a step back and take a moment and breathe a little bit now that we know where we’re headed and get our minds together and make what’s best with what we got,” said Mike Rodee, a member of the Wichita school board.

The Wichita School District would receive $4.8 million less this year under the new bill.

John Robb, the attorney for school districts suing the state for more funding, argues that the block grants are unconstitutional, as they would cause an increase in the funding gaps throughout districts, and causing that gap to continue for an additional two years.  “There is no interpretation that you can come up with that this block-grant bill is equitable,” he said.