TOPEKA, Kan. — A coalition of Kansas business and agricultural groups is proposing a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature sole authority to decide education funding levels, as the Legislature struggles to satisfy a state Supreme Court order to spend more on schools.
The constitutional amendment proposed by the Kansas Coalition for Fair Funding would remove the state courts’ role in deciding what constitutes suitable education funding, the Lawrence Journal-World reported .
“We need to take politics out of this battle, and let the people of Kansas have the conversation to decide how they want to see this issue resolved,” H.J. Swender Jr., of the Garden City-based American Warrior oil and gas company, said in a news release Monday. The other members of the coalition are the Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Livestock Association and the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.
The state has endured years of litigation over school funding, with courts consistently saying Kansas is not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide a suitable education for each child, particularly students in rural and underperforming districts that often cannot implement special taxes to benefit their schools.
The state Supreme Court ruled in October that the more than $4 billion a year the state spends on schools doesn’t satisfy that requirement and it gave lawmakers until April 30 to file briefs explaining how they are addressing the problem. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by districts in Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas. That lawsuit followed one in 1999 that forced lawmakers to promise big increases in annual spending on public schools. School funding became more problematic after the state slashed its personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at then-Gov. Sam Brownback’s urging.
Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer said Tuesday that he wants to be the last governor who has to deal with school funding litigation, and amending the state constitution would be “one way of solving it.”
“It’s time for this to end,” Colyer said.
During a briefing Monday, Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt said he would support allowing voters to decide if they want the constitution changed, but he said the proposed amendment could not be passed in time to influence the current school funding litigation.
“I’m just encouraging you, as you do whatever you’re going to do over the short term, please don’t lose sight of the longer-term issue,” Schmidt said. “Because if you do, I have some well-based concern that whoever gets to serve in these roles after us will be having this same discussion at some period hence.”
The state constitution currently says “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” The proposed amendment would change “make” to “determine.”
It also would say, “The determination of the total amount of funding that constitutes suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power,” and that, “Such power … shall be shown due respect by the other branches of government.”
The House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to have hearings on the proposed amendment Tuesday and Wednesday.
If the amendment were to pass by at least a two-thirds majority in both chambers, it would be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, where a simple majority of votes would approve it.
Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com