Kansas schools will open on time July 1st, after diligent work by legislators on the second and final day of the 2016 special session. The deal passed by the House 116-6 and Senate 38-1 preserved the current level of block grant funding for Kansas school districts and provided the equalization funding to the Local Option Budget that schools had been seeking via court action.
“The litigation’s resolved,” said Governor Sam Brownback. “The equalization has been dealt with, by agreement with the plaintiffs’ lawyers, as well. That piece of this is resolved, the schools shouldn’t be closed down by the courts.”
The Governor was pleased with the margin, as well.
“That’s fantastic, to get that,” Brownback said. “Plus, they did it just so quickly. I think that’s just really good.”
The 2016 Special Session will go down as the second shortest on record.
“A tough topic and short time frame,” Brownback said. “People came together and resolved the issue.”
The nuts and bolts of the bill were worked out over the course of the day. The vast majority of the solution was part of a plan authored by Republican House Appropriations Chair Ron Ryckman Jr. and Senate Ways and Means chair Ty Masterson, but Republican Representative Melissa Rooker was also instrumental in helping bring the bill over the line in negotiations.
“I’m pleased that we were able to avert the crisis for the short term,” Rooker said. “We still face the adequacy proceedings. Given the general fiscal problems the state is facing, we still have some major challenges ahead.”
The sticking point earlier in the day was a proposed $13 million cut in operating capital for the state’s 286 school districts. The compromise that was reached will use proceeds from the sale of the Kansas Bioscience Authority over and above $25 million to fill that gap, with the remainder coming from the extraordinary needs fund.
“It does feel good to have crafted a bipartisan solution that had such wide support across the aisle to keep our schools open,” Rooker said.
Rooker does understand that this is a compromise, however.
“It’s not a perfect plan, far from it, but it does comply with the Constitutional requirements,” Rooker said. “When we work on the problem solving together, we come up with a better remedy.”
House Speaker Ray Merrick echoed those sentiments. “This was quick, and it was collaborative. Republicans worked with school districts to find solutions to prevent the Supreme Court from shutting down Kansas schools, and the bill ensures there will be no disruption to public education. I’m proud of my fellow legislators for the work they did but it’s still disappointing that the Supreme Court brought about this situation by holding Kansas children hostage.”
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley was pleased with the result. “Regardless of who came up with the plan, what matters is that we put Kansas kids first today,” said Hensley. “This is a responsible plan that solves the problem and keeps schools open without relying on cuts to classroom spending.”
Hensley also quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson on the floor during debate. He said, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said, “The Legislature has steered school funding into the ‘safe harbor’ identified by the Supreme Court as constitutionally equitable. After the governor signs it into law, we will present this new legislation to the court next week, and I am optimistic it will end the current phase of the litigation and keep schools open and operating without interruption.”