Kansas governor signs school funding bill; court review next

AP News
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Posted: Jun 15, 2017 5:20 PM

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill Thursday that would increase spending on the state's public schools in an effort to comply with a court mandate.

The new law would phase in a $293 million increase in aid to the state's 286 school districts over two years. The measure also would establish a new finance formula that would have funded all-day kindergarten classes and increase money for programs designed to help low-performing students.

Even in signing the bill, the Republican governor expressed disappointment in its contents. The new funding formula resembles and old per-student formula that lawmakers junked in 2015 in favor of predictable "block grants" for districts.

"The Legislature missed an opportunity to substantially improve the K-12 funding system," Brownback said in a statement.

The governor said the new formula would direct more of the state's dollars into classrooms and encourage "responsible financial stewardship at the local level."

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in March that the state's $4 billion a year in education funding is inadequate. The justices rejected the block-grant system and gave lawmakers until June 30 to pass a new school funding law.

The court is expected to review the new law. Attorneys for four school districts that successfully sued the state have said they will challenge the new law because they believe it falls hundreds of millions of dollars short of what adequately funding schools.

The Supreme Court did not set a specific figure for how much funding must increase, but the districts' attorneys have pointed to a proposal from the State Board of Education to phase in a nearly $900 million increase over two years as evidence of what's needed.

Democrats took their arguments to heart and pushed for a larger spending increase. Some Republicans argued that they were boosting spending enough; others said the underlying finance formula is sound that they would take a chance that the court would order more spending.

The Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City school districts filed the lawsuit in 2010, arguing that Kansas doesn't spend enough money on its schools and has distributed it unfairly, hurting poorer districts. The Supreme Court has ruled in previous cases that the state constitution requires legislators to finance a suitable education for every child.

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