Brownback: Fully fund aid to poor Kansas schools

School Funding Fight

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday that Kansas legislators should fully fund aid to the state’s poor school districts, and that complying with a recent Kansas Supreme Court mandate on public education will require “significant” new spending.

Brownback issued a statement outlining “principles” for lawmakers following the Supreme Court’s decision in a lawsuit filed by parents and school districts over education funding. The court ruled this month that past cuts in aid to poor districts created unfair and unconstitutional gaps in funding between them and wealthier districts, and gave the Legislature until July 1 to fix the problems.

The Republican governor issued his statement on the eve of discussions about school funding by budget committees in both chambers of the GOP-dominated Legislature.

“The equity issue raised by the court should be completely addressed this year,” Brownback said in his statement. “The solution to the equity problem will require significant new funding.”

Brownback did not mention a figure for the new spending. The state Department of Education has estimated that fully reversing the past cuts in aid to poor districts — for general operations and capital improvement projects — will require $129 million a year.

Republican leaders, including Brownback, have said the Supreme Court left lawmakers with wide discretion in meeting the court’s mandate on aid to poor districts. But the justices said that if lawmakers fully reverse the cuts, there will be no further lower-court hearings on whether their solution is adequate.

Democrats are pushing for a full, $129 million increase in spending, suggesting that the state could eat into its cash reserves to cover the cost. But many Republicans don’t like the idea and want to look for a lower total price tag, cuts in other parts of the budget, or ways to shift existing dollars for public schools around.

“Some people want to spend zero, and some people want to spend $130 million,” said Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “That number we arrive at as a body will be somewhere in the middle.”

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat who’s trying to unseat Brownback in the governor’s race this year, chided the Republican incumbent for not going further and advocating a full restoration of past, recession-driven cuts in all districts’ base state aid. Instead, Brownback successfully pushed for massive personal income tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

The Supreme Court has ordered more lower-court hearings on whether the state is spending enough overall on its schools to provide a suitable education for every child.

“We can’t kick the can down the road any longer,” Davis said in a statement. “Our classrooms are suffering and our governor is ignoring the problem.”

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Online:

Brownback’s statement on education: http://1.usa.gov/1pcYN1X

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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