School finance committee begins review of options in response to Gannon ruling

The special legislative committee appointed to study a response to the most recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school funding began exploring options Monday. 

It was the first of three days of meeting approved by legislative leaders. The committee is expected to wrap up work December 18-19, with the 2018 session of the Kansas Legislature convening January 8. 

Special committee chair Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, who also chairs the House Judiciary Committee, stressed the role of the committee was to explore options to give the Legislature, not “solve the problem” itself. Several issues emerged the first day. 

First, the court’s decision strongly implied that the level of funding provided last session in SB 19 was inadequate, unless the Legislature can come up with much more convincing evidence the funding will substantially improve student achievement in the state. 

However, state budget projections for the next five years indicate it will be extremely difficult to add more funding for K-12 funding without raising taxes or cutting other state programs, even after substantial increases in state income tax rates were approved last session. 

Second, the Supreme Court struck down several politically sensitive provisions in SB 19 that it said would create unconstitutional inequities in local taxes. Several committee members also suggested that the court didn’t give the Legislature enough credit for its efforts to direct more resources to low achieving students. 

Third, although the committee did not discuss the issue Monday, a number of Legislators have expressed interest in attempting to change the Kansas Constitution’s education article to reduce the court’s ability to order a specific amount of funding or close schools if the Legislature does not comply. 

State Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, who is not a member of the special committee but serves on the Senate Education Committee, announced Monday he was drafting such a proposal. 

Fourth, several committee members, including Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, have expressed support for a phase-in of additional funding, similar to the multi-year plan adopted in 2006 in response to the Montoy decision. However, it is unclear whether the court would agree to such a plan, or the period of time it might allow. 

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