Archive for Sunday, April 6, 2014

Kansas school funding debate drags on

April 6, 2014

— Kansas legislators made quick work early Sunday brokering a new school funding agreement aimed at satisfying a state Supreme Court ruling.

Negotiators met briefly to revise a plan the House defeated on a 67-55 vote less than an hour earlier that would have increased school funding by more than $129 million. The rejection by the House prolonged the start of a planned three-week recess.

“Obviously, my patience is wearing thin,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican.

The new agreement retained a provision that would strip teachers of their tenure rights, but jettisoned creating tax breaks for parents who send their children to private schools. Senators will take first crack at the new plan, with debate expected around midmorning.

Legislators are trying to find a solution to resolve equity issues identified by the Supreme Court that hurt poor school districts.

House members offered concessions and tweaks to the funding formula to allow districts to raise additional funds through local property taxes to spend on the classroom, including teacher salaries. The issue is important to Johnson County legislators who represent wealthier districts that get little state aid.

About 400 teachers were in Topeka for a delegate assembly of the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. They adjourned their meeting to come to the Statehouse to voice their concerns, particularly about the tenure proposal.

Bob Thesman, a counselor from the Blue Valley school district in Johnson County, said the tenure issue concerned teachers because of the potential impact on job security and the ability to advocate for their students.

“If you don’t have the due process rights, you could be released without any reason being given,” said Thesman, who also is a state director for NEA.

Supporters of the change argue that it gives school boards and administrators more flexibility in removing underperforming teachers in effort to improve education quality.

Both the House and Senate plans are responses to a Kansas Supreme Court order last month that directed lawmakers to increase aid to poor school districts by July 1. The court ruled in a lawsuit filed by parents and the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Kansas City and Wichita school districts.

A three-judge district court panel that heard the case in 2012 will meet later this year to conduct further review of overall funding levels to determine whether the more than $3 billion in state support is enough to adequately educate students.

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