NEJC reps signal support for returning to old funding mechanism as short term fix to court ruling

Bollier_Kessinger
Rep. Barbara Bollier said she believes the current crisis over school funding was predictable, and that proponents of the block grant bill were never serious about crafting a new funding formula.

The ball is in Gov. Sam Brownback’s hands now, said northeast Johnson County’s delegation to the House of Representatives Thursday of the crisis over education funding in the state.

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Rep. Clayton on Legislature’s Constitutional Duty

Rep. Stephanie Clayton says the legislature has a duty to uphold the Kansas constitution — and that if some members of the House and Senate don’t like the Supreme Court’s interpretations, they should look to change the constitution instead of defying court orders.

[/pullquote]All four area reps — Republicans Stephanie Clayton, Barbara Bollier and Melissa Rooker along with Democrat Jarrod Ousley — attended Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson’s press conference to discuss the impact of the latest Supreme Court equity ruling on planning for the coming school year. And all four expressed dismay at the fact that the situation has gotten to this point, with the prospect of the courts not allowing schools to open July 1 appearing a real possibility.

As for how the legislature might go about solving the issue, the representatives painted a murky picture. Both Clayton and Rooker said they believed Brownback would ultimately convene a special session to allow the House and Senate to craft a fix.

“I sincerely hope that we have a special session called,” said Clayton. “I think that we may end up waiting a couple of day while some of the people who are anti-getting the solution taken care of rail against the system. But I think ultimately we do get a special session called. I’ve been hearing June 21.”

But, as Bollier noted, there’s no certainty Brownback, who issued an oblique statement on the situation Wednesday suggesting he would “respond aggressively and appropriately to any action taken by the Kansas Supreme Court to close our schools,” will reconvene the legislature.

“The chances are whatever the governor wants to make them — I don’t know,” Bollier said. “It better be [called]. We need it.”

Bollier also reiterated that one of the reasons she voted against the block grant bill in the first place was that she didn’t believe conservatives were truly interested in crafting a long-term funding solution, and that she envisioned situations like the current one arising as a result.

“I didn’t believe that was the goal of the block grants,” Bollier said. “I thought it was to stop funding and create issues like this to come up, so that people looked and said maybe we need a whole different way of putting money into education — not just public education.”

Though the legislature has taken up bills that would allow otherwise taxable money to be directed to private and religious school students’ tuition in the form of scholarships since the block grant bill went into effect, there has been virtually no public work on a new funding formula.

“We’ve had an entire year to do that,” Bollier said. “And, as far as I know, they’ve done nothing.”

As for how the legislature might satisfy the Supreme Court’s equity requirements if Brownback does convene a special session, there was agreement with Hinson’s suggestion that lawmakers temporarily reinstate an equalization provision that penalizes Johnson County districts, but that had passed court muster in the past.

“That would be the simple short term fix,” Ousely said. “Though it might not benefit everybody, it would at least keep the operations going. It would get us out of this crisis.”

Rooker agreed, noting that there were ways to craft a bill that would protect some of the funding that Shawnee Mission might lose under the old equalization mechanism. Rooker also said believed the courts would consider a variety of options before ordering schools shuttered.

“The assumption that the court would simply take action that causes schools to close I think is a leap beyond a couple of other options they have available,” Rooker said.