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Sunday, Apr. 06, 2014

Brownback: ‘Significant new funding’ needed to address equity issues for schools

Eagle Topeka bureau

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Addressing inequities in school funding identified by the Supreme Court “will require significant new funding,” Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday in a statement.

He did not say how much new funding, nor where the money would come from. The Department of Education and the Kansas Legislative Research Department have calculated equalization of these areas could cost $129 million.

He promised “the administration will work with legislative leadership to identify the necessary additional funding,” according to a statement issued by his office.

He also called for measures to ensure that additional money to equalize capital outlay and local option funds goes to classrooms under the authority of local school boards. He said if there are legitimate ways to make the school funding formula more efficient, they should be considered.

“I have had good discussions with legislators and education superintendents concerning school finance. My highest priority is that dollars need to go to the classroom and our students,” Brownback said in the statement.

Senate leaders confirmed Wednesday that they have been having meetings with the governor and House leadership and are beginning to near what they think is a reasonable solution to the March 7 court ruling.

Brownback’s statement indicates that Republican leaders are considering full equalization, which would eliminate the need for further court action on the equity issue, as opposed to an alternative solution, which would be allowed under the Supreme Court’s decision but would require additional court review.

Republican leaders are nearing a solution they can get behind, said House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg.

“We’re close. We’re still working. We are on the same page. The goal is to get money into the classroom where it affects the educational opportunities of our children,” he said.

Kansans should not expect Republican leaders to unveil a plan that funds equalization outright from the state general fund, as Democrats did last week. “Our fiduciary responsibility is that we look at all the state’s finances. … It’s not just an easy one, two, three fix,” Vickrey said.

He disputed the notion that Republicans have been hesitant to fund equalization, but said the plan will involve moving money from other areas in the budget.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever had a hesitance. It’s just what the dynamics are to get equalization fully funded, because school finance, it’s not an easy formula. And where you push in one place in the formula there’s an effect somewhere else,” Vickrey said.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, who introduced a bill last week to appropriate $129 million to eliminate the need for further court action, said on Monday that shifting money could cause new crises.

“I think if we go into the education budget and just pull $129 million from one pot of education money and put it over here for the equalization, I don’t think that will meet court muster. I don’t think that’s what the court had in mind,” Kelly said.

“If we go into other agencies’ budgets, good luck trying to find $129 million that we can cut after having cut for the last five years,” Kelly said. She said making cuts elsewhere could do serious damage.

Brownback called for the equity issue to be completely addressed this session. His statement laid out “eight guiding principles” for solving the court’s demand for equity before a July 1 deadline.

He said local school boards should be given the necessary authority to direct these funds to classrooms. In a hearing earlier this week, Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, voiced concern that additional money would not necessarily go to classrooms in every district.

The governor said if legitimate efficiencies in the school funding formula can be found, changes should be considered. Several legislators have contended that the formula needs to be changed.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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