Bollier, Sykes among those upset with Denning’s ultimatum on K-12 funding constitutional amendment

Jim Denning (center) at a candidate forum ahead of the 2016 election.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park and Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita on Tuesday said their chamber would not take up the $500 million K-12 school finance bill approved by the House until both chambers had passed a constitutional amendment that would strip judicial oversight of public school funding.

Speaking to reporters after Senate leaders communicated their position to legislators, Denning said the amendment is necessary to prevent future K-12 funding litigation.

“The madness has to stop,” he told Kansas Public Radio’s Stephen Koranda. “The cycle of litigation, budget deficits, shorting KPERS, taking all the highway funds, has to stop. We’re in this endless cycle and this year we need to defend our chamber and make a stand. We need a constitutional amendment to move forward.”

The move, which comes as the legislature stares down the latest deadline to address the Supreme Court’s ruling that Kansas schools are inadequately and inequitably funded, drew sharp criticism from Democrats and moderate Republicans.

Sen. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills told the Kansas City Star that she was disappointed by the tactic.

“I feel that they are practicing the equivalent of poor parenting, making idle threats and actually attempting to bribe people for what I would call a tyrannical stance,” she told the paper.

In an explanation of the day’s events posted on Facebook, Dinah Sykes, the first-term senator from Lenexa, said the move left her dumbfounded.

“I expected that there might be some twists in the road, but the events on April 3rd were something I couldn’t have anticipated,” she wrote. “I was in utter shock. At the time of our meeting, there hadn’t even been committee hearings on the proposed constitutional amendment. Ultimatums from leaders commanding actions are not democracy!”

Several northeast Johnson County residents testified against the constitutional amendment. Brandi Fisher of the MainStream Coalition spoke against the idea of changing the constitution’s K-12 funding provision, as did Devin Wilson of the Kansas PTA. Johnson County Commissioner Mike Brown testified in favor of the amendment.

How local House members voted on $500 million K-12 plan

Rep. Brett Parker

Before Denning and Wagle’s statements on the conditions for the Senate working a K-12 funding plan, the House reversed course from the day before and approved a bill that would inject approximately $500 million more in the state’s annual K-12 budget over five years.

All area Democrats except Cindy Holscher voted against the bill on the grounds that they did not believe it provided enough additional funding to meet the Supreme Court’s ruling. Conservative Republicans, like Randy Powell, voted against the bill as well but on the grounds that it was too expensive. The final tally was 71-53.

Here’s how the Shawnee Mission area delegation voted:

Yes

  • Stephanie Clayton
  • Tom Cox
  • Cindy Holscher
  • Linda Gallagher
  • Jan Kessinger
  • Melissa Rooker

No

  • Nancy Lusk
  • Cindy Neighbor
  • Jarrod Ousley
  • Brett Parker
  • Randy Powell
  • Jerry Stogsdill

Following the vote, Parker, a teacher in Olathe Public Schools, posted a thread on Twitter explaining his disappointment with the bill: