The legislature is back in Topeka for a special session to address school finance. As we discussed in prior weeks, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in May that the state was not providing school funding in an equitable manner and gave the legislature until June 30th to solve the problem. Since the legislature did not address the ruling on Sine Die, Democrats started a petition requesting the governor to call a special session - which he finally did on June 7th.
Need for Special Session
In 2010, after the state severely reduced the level of funding for our public schools, 46 school districts filed a lawsuit against the state. They alleged the state was not fulfilling its constitutional duty to adequately fund public schools and to do so in an equitable manner.
The issue is that some school districts reside in wealthy areas and are able to raise large amounts of funds for their schools through local property taxes, whereas other districts are not. This inequity is what the Court has charged the legislature to address.
The Supreme Court first ruled on the equity requirement in February of this year, when it stated the state was not distributing funding equitably. The constitutional standard the Court is holding the state to is this: all school districts are to have a reasonably equal access to a substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax efforts. Initially, the Court gave the legislature until June 1st to solve the problem.
The legislature convened in January and passed a bill that did not appropriate any new funds and merely moved existing funds around. In May, the Supreme Court ruled the bill did not pass constitutional muster and extended the deadline to June 30th to solve the problem.
It is widely believed that if the legislature would appropriate an additional $38 million using the old school finance formula, (which the Court has ruled is constitutional) the Court would find that to be constitutional and the equity portion of the case would be dismissed.
On June 17th, House Democratic Leader Tom Burroughs and Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley released a plan that would appropriate the additional $38 million and do so using existing funds.
The proposal would use the following funds:
- Freeze Virtual School Funding: Would hold the funding for virtual schools steady for the current year and not increase them as was already approved. This proposal takes $7.3 million.
- Extraordinary Need Fund: Would take $15.2 million from the Extraordinary Needs Fund that was established within the Block Grant bill in 2014
- Tax Credit for Private Schools: Would take $750,000 from a scholarship tax credit program. This program currently permits private companies to provide scholarships to private schools and receive a tax credit from the state. The $750,000 is the amount the state has currently provided in tax credits under the program. The proposal is to also repeal the tax credit program entirely.
- Job Creation Fund: Would take $13 million from the Job Creation Fund within the Department of Commerce. At this point the Department has only utilized roughly $60,000 from the account.
- TANF Idle Funds: Would take $3 million from unused TANF funds. The proposal is using existing unused funds and does not cut any existing programs.
Democrats believe the legislature should address this issue immediately and ensure our schools are appropriately and constitutionally funded. We are here to do a single job during this special session and that is to ensure our schools are able to open this August and are fully funded.
Hopefully, my colleagues in the legislature understand what is at stake during this special session and pass a bill that actually addresses the issue. It is time to come together and solve the problem and playing politics with our children’s education.
Keep in touch
It is an honor to serve as your state representative. I value and need your input on the various issues facing state government. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions. My office address is Room 173-W, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612. You can reach me at (785) 296-7371 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me. Additionally, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.