Lawmakers looking at all options to address school funding

(Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World via AP)

TOPEKA (CAPITOL BUREAU) – Lawmakers are looking at all their options to address school funding before the next legislative session starts next month.

On Monday, a joint legislative committee held its first of three meetings to review the Supreme Court’s October ruling that state funding for public schools was inadequate.

“12 out of the last 15 years we’ve been unconstitutional in terms of funding,” said David Smith, the chief of public affairs for the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools.

KCKPS, which has about 22,000 kids in the district, joined the lawsuit against the state in 2010.

“They are primarily poor, more than 80% qualify for free lunch. We have 75 different languages spoken in our homes and half of our kids, 50 percent of our kids, are English language learners so we serve kids with a lot of needs,” explained Smith.

Smith says with less money, his district and others aren’t able to provide the resources students need to be successful.

“The average district has 500 kids in Kansas, so there are lots of kids in communities where the schools are small but they’re at the heart of those communities. If we don’t invest in those schools then we’re really taking away the life blood of those communities,” said Smith.

In October, the Supreme Court ruled state aid for public schools was constitutionally inadequate, even with a $239 million increase over two years.

During the committee hearing, lawmakers reviewed the Supreme Court’s ruling. Committee Chairman, State Rep. Blaine Finch says the committee will put together options for the full legislature to take up in January.

“A constitutional amendment may be talked about, or several amendments may be talked about,” said Finch, R-Ottawa.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley says he’s against any constitutional changes.

“My plan is to have a school finance proposal that we’ll offer up as an alternative, as opposed to changing the constitution. We ought to be doing our jobs,” explained Hensley, D-Topeka.

Lawmakers have unit April 30 to give the Supreme Court their proposed course of action. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in June.

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