- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - As Kansas lawmakers prepare to start a special legislative session to address school funding, some Statehouse lawmakers who were around for a 2005 school funding special session say issues between the state Supreme Court and the Legislature still linger.

In 2005, as now, lawmakers and the state Supreme Court were at odds over which branch of government had authority to decide how schools would be funded, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (https://j.mp/28OMe6F ).

In 2005, the court also threatened to close public schools if lawmakers refused to comply with its order. It took 11 days in the Senate and 12 days in the House before lawmakers adopted a plan the court would accept.

The special session scheduled to start Thursday was called after the high court said the state’s education funding system remains unfair to poor school districts and warned that schools might not be able to reopen after June 30 if legislators don’t make changes by then.

Former Rep. Mike O’Neal, who was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in 2005, said lawmakers and the high court had concerns then and continue to have concerns.

“It’s not just school finance,” O’Neal said. “But I would agree, there’s been a combination of factors that has not enhanced the relationship between the Legislature and the judicial branch.”

O’Neal, now president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, said the upcoming session could be even more contentious than the 2005 session in part because while the court threatened to close schools then, few believed the conflict would get to that point.

“For example, I don’t remember schools publicly saying, we’re looking at a contingency plan in case schools don’t open,” he said.

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said state finances were also different in 2005, which could have led to an easier solution.

“It took a few days, but we weren’t in a situation where you were just having to struggle for every dollar,” he said.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, agreed that tensions are higher today than they were then.

“You have a much more radicalized, anti-public education, conservative base in the Legislature now,” Holland said. “This one is going to be riskier, shall we say. I don’t know if these folks at the end of the day are going to listen to the courts, or die on their so-called principles.”


Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, https://www.ljworld.com

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