House GOP leaders offer Kansas school funding plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Republican leaders produced a new plan late Monday for satisfying a state Supreme Court ruling that’s similar to one rejected last week but lacks the changes to state charter school laws.

House Speaker Ray Merrick said the plan would increase school spending by about $129 million to address two deficiencies deemed unconstitutional by the court in its March 7 ruling.

“It’s a start,” the Stilwell Republican said. “There’s going to be a lot of changes.”

But the plan still contained several policy changes to education laws, including modifying the way teachers are certified and creating a commission to determine if total school funding was adequate as it pertains to seven criteria in Kansas law.

Merrick said the House Appropriations Committee is likely to begin reviewing the proposal Tuesday.

Rep. Jerry Henry, a Cummins Democrat and ranking minority on House Appropriations, said the GOP plan looked similar to the original plan, absent the charter school expansion. Henry and Merrick both said they expect charter school expansion to be offered as an amendment during House debate.

“There’s lots of moving parts here that need to be determined,” Henry said.

Merrick has been negotiating with Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, and Gov. Sam Brownback on a solution that would be agreeable to both chambers and that the governor would sign. The parties must fix the funding issues by July, per the state Supreme Court, and send other questions back to a lower court to review.

Brownback spokeswoman Sara Belfry declined to say if the governor liked the new House plan, saying only that he was standing by seven guiding principles that any legislation must abide, including addressing all issues of funding equity.

“He is waiting to see what the final legislation is and he will consider that once it hits his desk,” Belfry said.

Senate GOP leaders said earlier Monday they hope to finish the framework of a school spending bill soon, but don’t have a timeframe yet for introducing a measure.

Sen. Ty Masterson, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said many “different, conflicting conversations” were taking place in the Statehouse and it was unclear what a Senate plan may look like.

“I’m a little nervous about opening it wide open for everybody without having some semblance of where you might want to go,” the Andover Republican said.

In addition to the July deadline set by the court, legislators are working under a more pressing April 4 deadline, when the the main portion of the 2014 session concludes and they take a three-week break. Legislative leaders have said they hoped to have the school issue resolved by then, but time was short.

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