Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Kansas Schools Urge Lawmakers to Boost Equity Funding to Respond to Court Ruling

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Kansas Schools Urge Lawmakers to Boost Equity Funding to Respond to Court Ruling

Article excerpt

Educators urged a legislative panel Thursday to boost education funding by $38 million to make spending equitable between rich and poor districts, but no quick consensus emerged among lawmakers over how to proceed.

The House and Senate Judiciary committees met jointly to wade into potential responses to a Kansas Supreme Court order that found school funding inequitably unconstitutional.

Lawmakers haven't coalesced around the option that has drawn the most response: a $38 million injection of equity funding. Calculations by the Kansas Department of Education show the increase likely would satisfy the court, which has set a June 30 deadline for the Legislature to act.

Districts, educational associations, Democrats and Gov. Sam Brownback have endorsed the $38 million option, however. Speaking to lawmakers, officials with both Wichita USD 259 and Kansas City Public Schools prodded legislators to embrace the figure.

"Although this does not make our district whole for (fiscal year 2015 or 2016), this action, in our opinion, will work. Diluting funding, changing formulas or adding artificial provisions beyond the scope of the formula will simply continue the disparity and jeopardize reaching a constitutional resolution in a timely manner," Jim Freeman, USD 259 chief financial officer, said.

Lawmakers will return for a special session next week to formally tackle the school finance issue. The judiciary committees can't advance legislation before the session begins but can offer recommendations.

A sense of urgency hung over the proceedings because of uncertainty over what might happen if the June 30 deadline passes without legislative action. One possible option would close schools, a scenario that has put educators and lawmakers on edge.

Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, is co-chairing the judiciary committee gathering. He said recommending the $38 million boost is a possibility, but he didn't endorse it.

"It's an option but it isn't mandatory. …

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