- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - An attorney for school districts that successfully sued Kansas said Monday that a legislative plan to boost education funding over five years is inadequate as lawmakers wrestled with the details of how new money would be distributed.

A special House committee began debating a plan to phase in a $762 million increase in the state’s annual aid of more than $4 billion for its 286 public school districts. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in March that the state’s current education funding is inadequate and gave legislators until June 30 to enact a new finance law.

Lawmakers must respond to the court’s ruling while also closing projected budget shortfalls totaling $887 million through June 2019. The GOP-controlled Legislature is looking at rolling back past personal income tax cuts promoted by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, and many lawmakers want any tax increases to cover extra funding for schools as well.

But attorney John Robb said the House committee’s school finance plan would take too long to phase in an increase that’s not enough to finance a suitable education for every child. Robb represents the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, districts, which sued the state in 2010.

“Five years is being done solely because they don’t want to raise enough taxes to meet their obligations,” Robb told The Associated Press.

The Supreme Court did not specify in its March order how much legislators must increase education funding. Some Republicans have argued that lawmakers could satisfy the court even with the existing amount of aid if it were better targeted to programs for children at risk of failing.

Robb said he believes a State Board of Education proposal to phase in an $893 million increase in aid over two years would be adequate.

“They’re going to go for the highest amount they can, and I get that,” said Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Winfield Democrat. “All we can do is come up with what we think is a workable amount.”

During an informal, 90-minute question-and-answer session later, former Sen. Jeff King, of Independence, told senators that having the new school finance law automatically increase education funding to account for inflation or some other factor would help the Legislature satisfy the Supreme Court. Legislative leaders hired King, an attorney, to advise them as they draft a new law.

He also suggested greater spending on pre-kindergarten programs and said the new law should monitor students’ academic performance.

The House committee’s discussion of the school funding plan focused on the details of the per-student formula it would use to distribute state dollars. The plan would provide extra dollars to districts for pre-kindergarten programs, all-day kindergarten classes, special education and program for at-risk children.

The committee could vote on the plan later this week.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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