July 22, 2024

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Senator Announces Plan to Push for Changes to KS Constitution

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State Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican, will introduce a Constitutional amendment to prevent the Kansas Supreme Court from closing schools.

The Kansas Legislature faces a possible impasse over school funding when they return to Topeka in January. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a recently-adopted funding mechanism and gave lawmakers a deadline of April 30 to adopt a new one for judicial review. Justices implied they might close schools if the legislature doesn’t find an adequate and equitable funding solution that meets court muster.

Sen. Dennis Pyle

Pyle said his proposed amendment would limit the authority to close schools to local boards of education.

“Parents deserve to have the decisions that impact their children and schools, made by their elected school boards–not unelected judges,” Pyle said in a press release.

An 11-member, bipartisan special interim committee met for the first time yesterday to discuss options to respond to the Court’s ruling. Justices stopped short of naming a specific dollar amount necessary to appease the state Supreme Court, but legislative staff told the committee that the state’s budget will be short of projections by 2019, even without adding new money to school funding.

“It would seem from the opinion that the court is demanding some additional expenditure of funds,” said. Rep. Blaine Finch, an Ottawa Republican who serves as the interim committee chair.

The Kansas State Board of Education estimated that school districts need $600 million in new funding to meet the Court’s objectives. Raising such funds present a daunting task for lawmakers, who retroactively hiked taxes by $1.2 billion less than a year ago.

Kansas Policy Institute estimates lawmakers would need to nearly double the state property tax rates to raise $600 million. They would need to increase sales tax rates to nearly 8 percent, or add an almost 20 percent surcharge to income tax rates to raise the money the state board of education recommends.

The Senate Republican leadership issued a joint statement shortly after the Court’s ruling saying raising taxes to meet the Court’s funding objectives “isn’t going to happen.” Proposals to pull funding from other parts of the state budget also are likely to meet legislative resistance. Without a tax increase, KPI estimates lawmakers would need to trim about 18 percent from the rest of the budget to find $600 million more for public schools.

A Constitutional amendment is another way lawmakers could end the ongoing school financing court battles. The Kansas Constitution requires that lawmakers make “suitable provision” to fund public education, and school districts and the legislature have been litigating the meaning of those words for a few decades now.

According to a new poll, an overwhelming majority of Kansas voters think lawmakers should consider a constitutional amendment to end the school funding wars. The option is on the table, according to Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning.

He told the members of the special interim committee that Attorney General Derek Schmidt is drafting language for a possible amendment. Pyle, who does not serve on the interim committee, announced his own amendment proposal as well. In order to amend the Kansas Constitution, two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate are required, before the issue would be put before voters on a ballot.

“Putting the issue of school authority before the voters  is a sensible proposal for resolution of these continuing costly legal battles,” Pyle said in a release.

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