Politics & Government

Proposed amendment on school-funding falls short in Kansas House

TOPEKA — The House killed a resolution Wednesday that had the blessing of Republican leaders Gov. Sam Brownback, House Speaker Mike O’Neal and Senate President Steve Morris.

The measure could have put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to see if voters want to tell the Kansas Supreme Court it can’t tell the Legislature how much money to spend on schools. That ties back to a 2005 court ruling that directed the Legislature to put more money into schools. A similar lawsuit awaits trial this summer.

The proposal required a two-thirds majority — 84 votes — and a 91-31 first round vote on Tuesday indicated the issue would advance to the Senate. But several House Republicans changed their votes on Wednesday and the resolution fell five votes short — 79-44.

“I presume in the last 24 hours that the education lobbyists had some successful influence on our members,” O’Neal said afterward.

But he said the votes send a strong message that only the Legislature can appropriate money. If the Supreme Court were to order the Legislature to spend $300 million for schools, he said, there probably would be 80 votes against it.

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said his organization didn’t lobby heavily in the past 24 hours, but he said he informed his members about the issue and invited them to contact lawmakers.

“I suspect that there were school leaders who were involved in this,” he said.

The measure could take away the court’s ability to define how lawmakers could ensure schools have funding to provide an adequate education to Kansas kids.

“We, I think, have tried to make clear our position that we don’t think we should limit the courts’ remedies,” he said.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, called the constitutional amendment “nothing more than an attempt by Governor Brownback and right-wing Republicans to circumvent the Legislature’s constitutional responsibility to fund public education.”

“Governor Brownback is running out of excuses for not restoring the nearly $250 million in cuts that have been made to Kansas schools over the past few years,” he said in a prepared statement.

Brownback’s office did not immediately respond to questions via e-mail.