A new committee looking at how to respond to the Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state’s school funding formula is unconstitutional may recommend changing the state constitution, a top Republican lawmaker said Monday.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, hinted the group may pursue a constitutional amendment that would go to a statewide vote.
The constitution now says Kansas must make "suitable" provision to finance education. An amendment could define the meaning of the phrase – potentially making it more difficult for school districts to sue for more funding in the future.
"This committee may recommend the people have a say in what that word means," Ryckman said.
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A group of legislative leaders, called the Legislative Coordinating Council, voted unanimously Monday to create an interim committee to begin crafting a response to the Supreme Court decision earlier this month. The court ruled new funding formula passed by the Legislature last spring provides inadequate funding and unequally distributes money among districts.
Lawmakers have until April 30, 2018, to tell the court how they will address the ruling.
Under the school funding formula, Kansas is spending an additional $485 million on schools over two years starting this fall. Lawmakers also passed an income tax increase projected to generate $1.2 billion in new revenue over the same time.
Attorneys for the school districts that launched the lawsuit that led to the ruling have said the school increase was $600 million short of what is needed.
Funding an increase that large could require further tax increases.
A constitutional amendment could make it harder for the court to rule funding is inadequate in the future, depending on what is proposed.
In a letter sent to legislative leaders, Ryckman said one purpose of the new committee should be to explore options to "reduce or eliminate the perpetual cycle of conflict" over school finance. He also wrote that the committee should explore how to end the "perennial and recurrent" threat of school closures.
"I would like to see what it says," Ryckman told reporters when asked if he supports such an amendment. He added that he supports efforts to provide certainty for students and teachers.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said voters have elected pro-education lawmakers but the court continues to rule the law unconstitutional.
"There’s going to be many solutions, but one solution would be: Let the voters reevaluate what suitable means to them and let them take a vote on it," Denning said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the current language in the state constitution is fine. He didn’t share frustration with the court that some Republicans have expressed.
"They’ve done their job as a co-equal branch of state government, and now we need to do our job," Hensley said. "We need to send them a bill…that has the money that provides for adequacy."
The Legislative Coordinating Council also considered but didn’t approve funding to hire attorneys and an expert witness to assist in its response to the court. A proposal before lawmakers asked for $400,000 to hire an attorney for the House, another for the Senate, and an expert.
The Senate wanted to hire Jeff King as its attorney. King represented the Legislature this spring and argued before the Supreme Court that the new funding formula was constitutional.
Possible candidates for the House attorney and expert witness were not discussed. House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, said there were too many questions about the proposal to move forward at the moment.