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School funding to dominate legislative session PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 16 January 2018 14:12

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By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times



After recovering from a kidney replacement late in 2017, Senator Bud Estes is back in the Kansas Legislature, facing the undaunting challenge of finding a solution to restoring the Kansas budget to meet all the needs as well as addressing the concerns of education.

In the State of the State Address, Gov. Sam Brownback suggested that growth will allow Kansas to meet the Kansas Supreme Court’s mandate of an additional $600 million per year.

“That’s not in one year the way some other folks are talking,” Estes said. “To say it’s totally doable, it’s too early to say. I suppose they are looking at the economy improving to offset that $120 million a year increase each year over the next five years. It’s just so up in the air right now. We have a long way to go to figure out if we can make this thing flow.”

Last year, the Legislature approved an additional $185 million for education and will increase that by another $95 million this year in an attempt to satisfy the Court and give educators additional money to enhance education. That included a large tax increase to stabilize the budget and meet the new mandate, one that was not easy to negotiate.

But the Court has demanded more — much more.

“The thinking was that should satisfy folks to get us back on track to see where we would end up with the economy and taxes,” Estes said. “Obviously the financial situation will improve, but no one knows to what extent until July. But before anything else can be done, we needed to get a feel for where we would be and how much funds would be back into the general fund. Anyway you look at it, we still have to do highways, corrections, Medicare and Medicaid, all that stuff. We were in hopes that doing this for the schools would get us into position so going forward we would know where we were at, we could get back to the highway plan, work on a new state prison that needs to happen, and other things beside education. The court had different ideas.”

Estes said the Legislature will be bringing in a third party with no affiliation to either side to evaluate school financing.

“These are two highly respected people doing these studies as far as our formula and financial situation,” Estes said. “These are not our people, not the school’s people, but highly respected and have done these studies for other states. They may agree that we need to come up with the money, and if they do they do, but it gets a third party aspect into it so we can see what they say rather than what education thinks or we think. Bear in mind, we have to remind ourselves, it could come in where they say put in more money. They are not working for us, they are coming in unbiased to study, and they will tell us as they see it, and we will have to work with the results and with the court and school system and the taxpayers to see what it will take.”

With school funding at an all-time high and schools having $2 billion in uncommitted reserves across the state, and still some districts are still suing for more, that has pushed some legislative leaders to seriously consider an amendment to the Constitution so the Supreme Court cannot dictate levels of education funding.

“I do agree with the amendment,” Estes said. “We are the only state in the central United States that allows this to happen. For one of our own agencies, K-12, to be able to sue, and not only sue the taxpayers, but use taxpayer money to sue the taxpayers they are going to get the money from, makes no sense. Why can’t corrections sue us or highways? That’s not the way government is set up. People who wrote that language in the Kansas Constitution had no thought of this being interpreted that way. It doesn’t make sense for one of our own agencies to sue taxpayers to get more money. A constitutional amendment would put us in line with the other states. This couldn’t happen in Oklahoma, Nebraska or Missouri, but it happens here.”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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