Local lawmakers, political groups react to Brownback’s call for special session

Rep. Jarrod Ousley was among the Democrats who signed a petition trying to compel Gov. Sam Brownback to call the special session. Photo via Ousley's office.
Rep. Jarrod Ousley was among the Democrats who signed a petition trying to compel Gov. Sam Brownback to call the special session. Photo via Ousley’s office.

After mounting pressure from both Republicans and Democrats, Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday announced he would convene a special session of the legislature in order to address the supreme court’s ruling deeming the current school funding mechanism unconstitutionally inequitable.

We asked local elected officials and the heads of education and political groups to share their reactions to the news and what they believe needs to happen in the special session to avoid the prospect of schools being closed this fall. Here’s what they had to say:

Sen. Kay Wolf

“I was never in doubt the legislature would indeed meet for a special session in order to address the recent Supreme Court ruling rendering inequity amongst the school districts. I believe it was prudent of the legislative body to allow additional time to throughly analyze the court’s opinion in order to best meet the requirements set out rather than to immediately address the issue on sine die. Undoubtably, there will be several options presented by the legislative body on how to satisfy the equity requirement. Certainly, legislative counsel and legislative leadership will be involved as well. It is my hope the legislature can put aside partisan politics and resolve this issue quickly in order to begin a united effort to craft a new school finance formula that better serves the needs of our Johnson County schools while preserving a quality education for all Kansas students.”

Rep. Barbara Bollier

“The governor has called for a special session on June 22 and I am very pleased. While some chose to sign a petition calling for the special session, others of us worked behind the scenes and with both efforts in play, the Governor responded. This equity issue will be resolved: the community can be confident about schools proceeding as usual.”

Rep. Jarrod Ousley

“I’m glad the pressure from Kansans and from legislators who petitioned the governor to call the Special Session was effective. We need the special session to begin quickly, to give ourselves time to meet the June 30 deadline. As we work, we will need the opportunity for debate and consensus, and to hear from the education community and our constituents. Our focus must be on meeting constitutional muster, so we can keep our schools open, summer lunch programs running, and teacher paychecks issued. We must not let unrelated topics sideline our work.”

Rep. Melissa Rooker

“Last week, I joined a number of my colleagues to let the governor know we expected him to call a special session and made a request to the people of Kansas to contact his office to do the same. Apparently, even the Army leaders at Ft. Riley joined us. Pressure from the outside, along with legislators pulling together from the inside, got the job done. In answer to an inquiry about our schedules, I let the speaker’s office know I have no schedule conflicts that will prevent me from showing up to do the work. In talking with other lawmakers, it is apparent that there are a variety of ideas regarding how to respond to the court that range from once again rearranging existing money, changing our constitution, or doing nothing. I remain convinced that the best option involves returning to the method of funding LOB already accepted by the court as constitutional and funding it appropriately. There is no need for such a remedy to harm districts as we can add criteria to the “extraordinary needs” fund that allows districts to qualify if they lose funding as a result of legislative action to comply with a court order. My hope for the special session ahead is that we focus on the best interests of the 467,000 school age children in the state rather than engaging in partisan political battles over education policy changes that have failed to move through the regular legislative process.”

Mike Jones, Northeast Johnson County Conservatives

“I think it is well within the right of the Kansas Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a bill. That’s essentially what they have done with the education funding bill by ruling it unconstitutional. While I may not agree with their ruling it is their right to do so. That’s why I believe calling a special session to deal with the funding is the right thing to do. Where I think the courts have overstepped in their decision is by determining how much money needs to be added to funding and attempting to force where that money is allocated. It is solely the responsibility of the legislative branch to determine how much money should be spent and where it is allocated. I find it disappointing that in addition to ruling that we need to allocate additional funds overall, the courts have also determined that $5 million should be pulled from Johnson County schools and sent elsewhere. While it’s important for us to fund schools throughout the state, the legislators in Johnson County need to be concerned first and foremost with the school districts they represent and where their constituents send their kids to school. I have seen too many of our own local elected officials calling for us to revert back to the old formula, which would also take money from Johnson County schools and send it elsewhere. Johnson County legislators need to be unified in their decision to protect our local schools and make sure our children are receiving their fair portion of the funding.”

Judith Deedy, GameOn for Kansas Schools

“We are glad to see that Gov. Brownback has opted to call a special session. The legislature needs to avoid gimmicks and pass a constitutional plan. We believe the best way to do that would be to add additional funding. While we understand the state’s current economic crisis, it is a self-inflicted crisis, and the needs of Kansas children must be met. We have seen the Governor and multiple legislators criticizing the court for ruling against the state over ‘1 percent of school funding.’ We counter that if that amount of funding is insignificant, they should provide it and put an end to this situation. We believe the legislature must address the Gannon equity issue without adding harmful education policy to make the bill more palatable to ultraconservative legislators who would rather defy the court. We remember what happened in the final hours of the 2014 legislative session when teacher due process was eliminated and the tax credit scholarship bill enacted, despite their failure to pass though the regular legislative process. After the Gannon equity problem is solved, legislators need to get serious about passing a new funding formula and ensuring our state has the necessary revenue to support it. If they had done that over the past year, we wouldn’t be questioning whether schools will open in the fall.”

Danny Novo, MainStream Coalition

“We are pleased to hear that the governor has finally agreed to convene a special session of the Kansas Legislature to address public school finance. But it is with disbelief that we listen to him declare that the Kansas Supreme Court, a fair and impartial body whose members are barred from political activity, is the cause of the state’s education crisis. In fact, it is the governor’s reckless tax laws and failed leadership that have brought us to this pass. Under his direction, his allies in the Kansas Legislature have put up proposals and bills they knew would not pass constitutional muster, to manufacture just this situation. But Kansans have had enough. It is time for the Legislature to put forth a constitutional school finance plan that finally funds public education to the full extent required by the Kansas Constitution. It will be difficult, because of the budget hole the governor’s policies have created, but we expect our legislators to work hard, work transparently, and above all else, listen to their constituents.”

Mary Sinclair, Devin Wilson and Denise Sultz, Kansas PTA

“As Kansas state legislators reconvene in Topeka, Kansas PTA encourages our elected officials to return with all Kansas youth in mind. The success of this special session depends upon the capacity of all those involved to set aside partisan and ideological objectives. We ask that the process of establishing a constitutionally sound equity fix to focus on the financial formula and to leave educational policy changes out of the equation. Equity and open school doors should not involve negotiations over policy riders, such as, vouchers or tax credit scholarships.

“Kansas PTA will continue to advocate for investment in public education. Moving forward from this special session, PTA will continue to call for the establishment of a transparent and meaningful process to draft a new school finance formula. We expect this new formula process to involve all key education stakeholders, to yield a working definition of the term suitable, and to identify a routine procedure for updating the cost of providing all youth the opportunity to achieve the state education standards. Kansas PTA supports a school finance formula that provides adequate and equitable opportunity for all youth and school communities to achieve regardless of their readiness, disability, language, wealth or geography.”