Much remains to be resolved in school funding
One week into the recent special session, there was little promise the Kansas Legislature could rise above politics and ideology to take action on the school funding issue that was the reason for the summer session.
But faced with the threat that the Kansas Supreme Court could close Kansas elementary, middle and high schools in the face of further intransigence, the Legislature passed a $148.4 million school finance package. That measure together with a $142 million funding upgrade approved by the Legislature in the spring -- also enacted because of the Court -- will increase De Soto USD 232's budget by about $1.7 million more than that of the recently concluded school year.
That funding solution came only when enough conservative members of the Kansas House gave up their insistence that any funding increase be accompanied by passage of a constitutional amendment that would prevent the Court from interceding in such a profound way on future appropriation measures. In what seems a contradiction, the amendment was advanced by many of the same lawmakers who demanded the Court was overstepping its authority by demanding the initial $142 million funding increase.
For the record, the Court found its authority in a passage of the Kansas Constitution that states: "The Legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state. No tuition shall be charged for attendance at any public school to pupils required by law to attend such school, except such fees or supplemental charges as may be authorized by law." The key word is suitable, which found further definition from the Legislature's 2003 study that assigned a dollar figure to that word.
The Legislature has now ordered its post-audit division to do a new study of the cost of education. That study is now in progress and is due as the Legislature returns to Topeka in January. Its results will obviously shape debate in the session whether they confirm or contradict the previous study that has the Court stating the Legislature needs to find another $568 million for education next year.
In short, the stage is set for a full-blown school finance debate in the next session with the new study's findings, the Court's interest and the certainty of a renewed effort at a constitutional amendment on the table.
But, as we have said in the past, an election-year debate -- with the possibility voters will be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment as they are picking candidates for governor, state offices and the Kansas House -- is the ideal time for that debate.