Kansas legislators, governor candidates clash on K-12 court ruling

Senate President Susan Wagle bangs the gavel in the Senate chamber in this file photo. Wagle was among Republicans Monday who said the Kansas Supreme Court should have let a new formula operate one year before ruling. (File photo/The Capital-Journal)

The Legislature’s top leaders and a handful of candidates for governor Monday shared frustration with legal squabbling over state funding of public education, but differed on how to answer the Kansas Supreme Court’s declaration the existing system was inadequate and inequitable.

 

The state’s highest court declared lawmakers had until April 30 to address constitutional shortcomings in the plan approved by the 2017 Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback. It features new state aid of $195 million this school year and $292 million in the upcoming school year. Justices said they expected to finish assessment of a revised funding strategy by June 30.

Senate President Susan Wagle, of Wichita, Vice President Jeff Longbine, of Emporia, and Majority Leader Jim Denning, of Overland Park, said the Supreme Court should have let the new formula operate one year before ruling. The Senate GOP leaders said they seek a quality public education system, but “raising taxes to fund this unrealistic demand is not going to happen.”

“This ruling shows clear disrespect for the legislative process, and puts the rest of state government and programs in jeopardy,” the Senate Republicans said.

During the 2017 session, Kansas legislators passed a two-year, $1.2 billion tax hike to end years of state revenue shortfalls.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the Supreme Court decision on K-12 funding reflected a constitutional protest he filed in June after passage of Senate Bill 19. Justices agreed “Kansas children are being left behind,” he said.

He urged Republicans to appoint a special committee of House and Senate members to work on an alternative before the 2018 session in January.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Hutton said a bipartisan resolution must be found to bring the “never-ending argument” on school finance to a close.

“Kansans are tired of watching lawyers argue in a courtroom, while their tax dollars pay both sides’ legal fees instead of being used to benefit our children, teachers and classrooms,” said Hutton, a former Kansas House member.

Carl Brewer, a Democratic candidate for governor, said failure to suitably fund schools denied urban and rural students a lifeline to college and career. The state is gambling with the economic and social fabric by undermining funding for public education, he said.

“The Democratic caucus is ready to get to work immediately on crafting a constitutionally sound school finance formula that ensures student success for all Kansas children — no matter their ZIP code,” said House Minority Leader Jim Ward, who also is running for governor.

Another Democratic candidate, Josh Svaty, said he welcomed deadlines to hold the “governor’s and the Legislature’s collective feet to the fire regarding our schools,” but believes the issue should be resolved in the future without lawsuits.

“Providing an education to the youth of our state is one of our few constitutional responsibilities and, as governor, I will not allow us to abdicate our responsibility to our judicial branch,” Svaty said.

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