Kansas house approves school funding plan, ending sessionPosted: Updated:
The Latest on the Kansas Legislature's debate on school funding (all times local):
Kansas legislators have ended their special session after passing an education funding plan aimed at satisfying a court mandate and averting a threat that the state's public schools might shut down.
The Senate adjourned at about 8:20 p.m. Friday, and the House followed about 30 minutes later.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback called the GOP-dominated Legislature into session to respond to a state Supreme Court order last month.
The court said the state's education funding system remained unfair to poor school districts despite three revisions of school finance laws in the past three years. The justices had warned that schools would not be able to reopen after this month if lawmakers didn't make more changes.
The governor and lawmakers expect the plan to satisfy the court.
The Kansas House has approved an education funding plan from Republican leaders that would boost aid to poor school districts to satisfy a state Supreme Court mandate and end a threat that the state's public schools might not reopen next month.
The vote Friday night was 116-6 on a bill that would increases aid to poor school districts by $38 million for 2016-17 by diverting money from other parts of state government.
A Senate vote also was expected Friday night. Its approval would send the bill to Gov. Sam Brownback.
Legislators had a two-day special session to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling last month that the education funding system remained unfair to poor districts. The justices warned that schools would be unable to reopen after June 30 without changes.
Top Republicans in the Kansas Legislature have rewritten their education funding plan.
The plan unveiled Friday boosts aid to poor school districts by $38 million, just as a previous plan from Republican leaders did. It redistributes some funds from wealthier districts to meet a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to make the education funding system fairer to poor districts.
It does not rely as heavily on reshuffling of existing education dollars as the previous plan. Instead, it dedicates funds from the planned sale of assets of the Kansas Bioscience Authority to cover up to $13 million of the aid to poor schools. The authority was set up a decade ago to nurture Bioscience businesses.
The House Appropriations Committee approved the plan and the full House planned to debate it later Friday.
A school funding plan from Republican legislative leaders is going back to committee in the Kansas House for potential changes.
House Speaker Ray Merrick reassigned the bill Friday to the Appropriations Committee only a day after the panel approved it. GOP leaders faced dissention among Republicans over how to pay for a $38 million increase in aid to poor school districts for 2016-17.
Legislators were in the second day of a special session to address a state Supreme Court ruling last month. The justices said the state's education funding system remains unfair to poor districts.
The GOP leader's plan decreases aid already promised to 141 of the state's 286 school districts to help poor ones. Critics say the Supreme Court wouldn't accept such a reshuffling of existing education dollars.
The Kansas Senate has rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have prevented the state's courts from closing schools in deciding future education funding lawsuits.
The vote Friday was 26-13, one vote short of the 27 needed for a two-thirds majority to pass a constitutional change.
The measure was a response to a state Supreme Court ruling last month declaring that the state's education funding system remains unfair to poor school districts. The justices warned schools might not reopen after June 30 if lawmakers didn't make changes.
Critics said the proposal was designed to handcuff the courts.
But supporters said future school closure threats need to be eliminated. The proposal also would have prevented legislators from closing schools in response to a court order.
Packed room waiting for House Appropriations to reconvene. House wants to change bill and senate may vote as is. pic.twitter.com/Inculcate0— KAKE Chris Frank (@CFrankKAKE) June 24, 2016
Moderate Republicans in the Kansas House have modified their plan for meeting a state Supreme Court mandate on education funding to make it more palatable to fellow lawmakers.
Republican Rep. Melissa Rooker of Fairway said a proposal to divert $6 million in unused economic development funds to public schools has been dropped because of potential opposition. Some Republicans have argued that the move would stymie job creation.
Rooker said the plan would instead divert existing education dollars set aside for school's emergency needs to boost aid for poor school districts. The moderate GOP plan still would tap $9 million in motor vehicle fees.
They're all elements of a plan to increase aid to poor school districts by $38 million for 2016-17 to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling last month.
The Kansas Senate is debating a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent the state's courts from closing schools in deciding future education funding lawsuits.
Republican leaders expected the Senate to vote on the measure Friday. A two-thirds majority was needed for passage.
The proposal is a response to a state Supreme Court ruling last month declaring that the state's education funding system remains unfair to poor school districts. The justices warned schools might not reopen after June 30 if lawmakers didn't make changes.
The measure also would prevent legislators from closing schools in response to a court order. Supporters said future school closure threats need to be eliminated. Critics said the proposal is designed to handcuff the courts.
If lawmakers pass the measure, it goes on the ballot in November.
A problem with the Kansas House's sound system has forced state workers to bring in a substitute piece of equipment.
When the House's staff arrived Friday morning, a big speaker in the chamber was making a loud popping noise every six seconds. The same problem occurred briefly Thursday morning when lawmakers convened a special session on education funding.
House leaders turned the speaker off and warned members to keep side conversations down because it would be harder to hear any debates.
Workers then removed a speaker from the Statehouse's largest committee room, hooked it into the House's system and stood it up on a table next to the ailing speaker in the House chamber, securing it with long Velcro strips.
An attorney representing four Kansas school districts suing the state says he believes legislators would satisfy a state Supreme Court education-funding mandate by passing a plan from moderate Republicans rather than one backed by GOP leaders.
Lawyer John Robb said Friday that the plan circulated by Republican Rep. Melissa Rooker of Fairway appears to be "good to go" because it avoids reshuffling a small part of the state's existing aid to school districts to help the poorer ones.
GOP leader's plan redistributes $13 million in aid for general operations in all 286 school districts to help cover the cost of providing court-mandated property tax relief in poor districts. The House expected to debate the plan Friday.
The alternative would divert motor vehicle fees and unused economic development funds to schools.
Top Republicans hope to push an education funding plan through the Kansas Legislature to end a looming threat of public schools shutting down.
But they faced doubts Friday that their fix would satisfy a court mandate.
GOP leaders are pushing a plan to boost aid to poor districts by $38 million for 2016-17, largely by redistributing existing education dollars.
Both chambers could debate the plan Friday, the second day of a special legislative session called by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled last month that the state's education funding system remains unfair to poor schools. The justices warned that schools might not be able to reopen after June 30 if lawmakers don't make changes.
Critics contend the redistribution of education dollars won't satisfy the Supreme Court.