Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Policy Advocates Prepare for K-12 Funding War

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Policy Advocates Prepare for K-12 Funding War

Article excerpt

Advocacy organizations lobbying on education, budget and tax policy made clear Tuesday that the response of elected officials to the Kansas Supreme Court's latest school finance ruling will be complicated by upcoming campaigns for governor and elections for the entire Kansas House.

The Supreme Court rejected the school-finance law embraced by the 2017 Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback to address previously identified constitutional flaws in state aid to K-12 public schools. Justices declared the latest two-year, $293 million increase in state funding inadequate and inequitable under the Kansas Constitution.

Alan Cobb, president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, said the Supreme Court's ruling was premature and would fuel division in a highly charged political environment leading to primary and general elections in 2018. The Kansas Chamber's political action arm is again expected to be a major contributor to Republican campaigns for statewide offices and the 125-member House.

"To rule that the new school funding formula that's been in place barely three months is unconstitutional and that funding is inadequate, but won't give a specific dollar amount as to what is actually adequate, shows this is simply about politics," Cobb said.

While the Supreme Court didn't articulate a precise dollar amount for closing the gap, the justices agreed the state's legal counsel didn't prove existing funding provided a suitable education for the state's 500,000 students. Attorneys for plaintiff school districts argued the law fell hundreds of millions of dollars short.

Complicating the political landscape was passage during the 2017 session of a two-year, $1.2 million increase in income taxes. It was designed to end state budget instability tied to Brownback's aggressive 2012 income tax cut and softness in the manufacturing, agriculture and energy economy. Legislators' votes on the tax hike will be a point of emphasis on the campaign trail.

Three top Republicans in the Senate vowed not to allow a tax increase for education in the 2018 session, while House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said the court's decision jeopardized financing of other basic government services. …

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