Wednesday, July 30, 2014

School funding, other challenges await newest House legislators

By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer | 1/14/2013

TOPEKA — A Shawnee District Court ruling Friday that prompts Kansas to increase its elementary and secondary education funding by nearly 19 percent came as no shock to one local legislator.

Awaiting his oath to office in the Kansas State Capitol, Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said Monday the court’s decision is but one step toward a larger wait.

TOPEKA — A Shawnee District Court ruling Friday that prompts Kansas to increase its elementary and secondary education funding by nearly 19 percent came as no shock to one local legislator.

Awaiting his oath to office in the Kansas State Capitol, Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said Monday the court’s decision is but one step toward a larger wait.

“I don’t think anybody was surprised by that ruling,” Finch, an Ottawa attorney, said. “Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a tempest in the teapot because Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is going to be filing an appeal [to the ruling], if he hasn’t already, and we’re probably going to be waiting another nine to 12 months before the Kansas Supreme Court decides on that.”

In its 245-page ruling, the court claimed that spending cuts through recent legislative sessions have spurred an “unconstitutional eroding” of Kansas’ education funding. In addition to increasing the current $3,783 base aid per pupil to $4,492 in 2014, the ruling prevents legislators from further reducing per-pupil education funding.

If upheld, the ruling would force Kansas to add $440 million more to its about $3 billion tab spent during this fiscal year, according to media reports.

In 2010, attorneys John Robb and Alan Rupe filed the lawsuit on behalf of students and school districts in Wichita, Kansas City, Dodge City and Hutchinson.

The attorneys argued that achievement gaps and high dropout levels have left students “with less opportunity and less education than the generation before,” according to media reports.  

“I’m just overjoyed for the school kids of Kansas in this deal,” Robb said, according to media reports. “The school kids of Kansas have won again.”

During his campaign to represent Kansas House District 10, Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, said that he planned to preserve Kansas’ quality education system. He affirmed Monday that he hopes the ruling will lead to increased funding for Kansas’ schools.

“I trust the way that they judged,” Jones said of the court’s ruling. “I know my superintendent and all superintendents in my district are super excited for this [ruling], even though they’re not counting their chickens before their eggs hatch. … I hope that [education funding] will increase. We need it. We need our teachers.”

Following the ruling, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said the judges inevitably raised property taxes on Kansans.

“The ruling by the district court is disappointing but not unexpected,” Brownback said Friday in a release. “Through today’s ruling, the courts are drastically increasing the property tax burden on every Kansan. The Kansas Legislature, not the courts, has the power of the purse and has, in fact, increased total state funding for schools every year during my administration. The legislative process is the appropriate venue for debating and resolving issues of taxation and spending.”

With massive tax cuts on the horizon, and Brownback’s displeasure with the ruling, Finch said he’s unsure if Kansas schools soon will see a funding boost.

And without seeing specifics in a budget, Finch said he couldn’t comment on whether he would vote in favor of increasing school funding. Finch added, however, that he still would keep his campaign promises of providing adequate funding to Kansas schools.  

“I am committed to public education and making sure that we adequately fund it,” Finch said. “I’m cautiously optimistic [that Kansas will see increased education funding].”

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