Hawver: Politically Red-Hot Issue

 

Kansas Political Columnist Martin Hawver
Kansas Political Columnist Martin Hawver

Brand new Gov. Laura Kelly has gotten one of her most politically red-hot issues introduced into the Legislature, printed out, and ready for the scrap over financing K-12 public schools in Kansas.

 

Her bill, that she told (warned?) lawmakers about at her State of the State address pumps another $93 million into state aid for public schools, apparently the amount needed to get the Kansas Supreme Court grinning about adequate financing of public education.

And, now that those bills are printed up nicely, we’ll see just how long it takes either the House or the Senate to start considering them. So far, it appears that legislative leaders want to make sure that the ink is good and dry before they start handling the bills.

Key to that Kelly initiative is that about $93 million has been penciled out as the amount of new spending for schools that the Supreme Court has determined to be adequate. It has a lot to do with past years’ legislative action which didn’t significantly increase funding, which didn’t keep up with inflation. Inflation is a big deal when you’re spending more than $5 billion a year to help finance local public schools. A percent or two, and you’re talking real money.

Her bill puts in that $93 million in additional spending for schools this year, as the court wants. Don’t go reading through the bill for a $93 million-line item. It’s fairly obscure and deals with increasing the base state aid per pupil, and this year, as the court wants.

Now, the governor thinks paying the money, essentially settling more than two decades of school finance lawsuits, is smart. And it meshes with her aim to increase school funding.

The Legislature’s Republican leadership generally takes three tracks. One is that it’s the Legislature that decides how much money to spend, not the court; another is that legislators are spending a lot of their constituents’ money on schools now, and the third is, of course, that lawmakers have other places to spend the money.

Oh, and while it’s early in the session, Attorney General Derek Schmidt would like the Legislature to act quickly on the bill, because he’s got an April 25 date to show the Supreme Court that the state has remedied the shortcomings of the school finance issue, and a May 9 date for oral arguments before the court to deliver the answer.

And time in the generally slow legislative process is important to Schmidt.

If he shows up with a new law that ponies up the money, that makes things easier.  He could almost just ask for a receipt from the court and have time for a nice lunch on May 9. Maybe something that goes with wine…

Or, the Legislature could dunk Kelly’s bill, just not passing it, cutting the amount of the new spending, or coming up with some new idea that lawmakers hope the court will buy.

That is also something that Schmidt would like to know as quickly as possible.

Because he represents the state, not just the Legislature, he’s going to have to figure out how to explain what the Legislature did, why it did it, and why it will adequately finance schools. Oh, and there’s always the chance the Legislature will come up with a plan that the governor vetoes. That makes the water a little deeper…

So, while we’re watching taxes and voting rights and possibly expansion of Medicaid and all the other partisan scraps, you might want to spend a little time wondering about schools. You won’t be alone…

by Martin Hawver

Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com

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