- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas Senate committee delayed Wednesday’s expected discussion of education budgets to allow for more time to study last week’s ruling from the state Supreme Court on public schools.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson said he felt it best to pull the budgets for public schools and higher education back as legislators considered funding options to comply with the ruling.

“We’re still trying to figure out which mud to pick up, let alone what will stick to the wall,” said Masterson, an Andover Republican. “I’d like to have it go through the usual process.”

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state needs to fix two funds that help poorer school districts in order to bring the entire school finance system into compliance with the constitution. The education department estimates the solution could cost as much as $129 million for the budget year beginning July 1.

Masterson said legislators are looking at all options before making recommendations, which could include reallocating revenues already earmarked for specific public school programs, as well as the budgets from other agencies. Kansas spends more than $3 billion on public schools annually.

“That’s not to say we won’t be putting in any more new money,” he said.

Sen. Laura Kelly, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said the state should have enough money in reserve accounts to cover the amount to satisfy the court ruling. She cautioned against looking at other state agency budgets for a solution.

“I don’t think that’s what the court intended,” said Kelly, of Topeka, adding she didn’t expect the funding to be settled until late April or May.

Masterson said most of the recommendations from Republican Gov. Sam Brownback for enhancing higher education budgets were likely to advance, including restoring certain salary cuts made to university faculty and employees. Kelly questioned whether such additional spending would survive if the court ruling is to be satisfied.

“I would be shocked and awed if the governor’s enhancements for higher education made it through the process,” she said.

House members were expected to advance a supplemental spending bill to cover adjustments to the current budget, as well as the 2015 budget later this week. The Appropriations Committee will work on the court ruling solution in a separate measure.

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