Senate leadership announced they won’t schedule a debate on school finance until a constitutional amendment proposal moves through the House and Senate. The pronouncement stalled momentum on a school finance bill that passed the Kansas House earlier in the day.
House members passed a school finance bill that would add $500 million in new funding over the next 5 years. It was virtually the same bill that stalled in House the day before. Also on Tuesday, a Senate committee passed legislation that would increase funding by $274 million in 5 years, but Senate leadership said school finance legislation is frozen until lawmakers address a proposal to amend the constitution.
Senate President Susan Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning told reporters the cycle of school finance litigation needs to end.
“The madness has to stop,” Denning said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley called the pronouncement “a “temper tantrum.”
“Senators Wagle and Denning’s temper tantrum over a constitutional amendment is one of the most irrational actions taken by any legislative leadership I’ve ever seen,” Hensley said. The Topeka Democrat has served in the Kansas Legislature for 40 years. “They are holding the school children of Kansas hostage by refusing to run a bill to adequately fund schools.”
By Tuesday afternoon, school funding debate moved to the House judiciary committee where members heard testimony on a constitutional amendment that would make the legislature the final authority on school funding appropriations.
“Wagle and Denning are acting like school-yard bullies,” Hensley said. “This tactic is not going to result in the passage of a constitutional amendment.”
Passing a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers, and then voters would have a final say on a ballot question. Proponents of the amendment proposal say allowing the people to weigh in on the issue is a way to end a decades-long ongoing school finance standoff between the Courts and the legislature.
Lawmakers are laboring under a Kansas Supreme Court mandate requiring that lawmakers craft a new school finance formula before April 30. The legislative session’s first adjournment, followed by a three week break, is set for Friday.
The committee members listened to more than three hours of testimony on the proposed amendment Tuesday afternoon, and they’re scheduled to continue the debate tomorrow.