Shawnee Dispatch

Kansas Democrats file protest over school finance bill

March 28, 2016

TOPEKA — Democrats in the Kansas House and Senate have filed a formal protest against a bill passed last week in the Republican-dominated Legislature in response to a state Supreme Court ruling that the state's school funding is inequitable.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in February that a 2015 school finance law denied poorer school districts their fair share to state funding. The court threatened to shut down public schools if the funding problems aren't fixed by June 30. The bill redistributes $83 million a year between the districts, without an overall increase in state spending.

By filing a formal protest, the Democrats put their objections to the bill into records the court will likely use to determine whether the new law is constitutional. The Democrats contend the new bill still benefits wealthier districts at the expense of poorer districts, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Monday.

The protest says the bill "is the product of politics rather than the actual cost" to educate the state's children.

House Speaker Ray Merrick on Monday criticized the Democrats' opposition.

"Republicans developed a good-faith solution and voted overwhelmingly to keep classrooms open," Merrick said in a statement. "Democrats voted to help the Supreme Court close schools. If anything is worthy of protest, it is the Democrats' inaction."

Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to sign the bill by early next month. If he does, it will go to the state Supreme Court for review.

GOP leaders in the Legislature sought to enhance their case by creating a record of how lawmakers arrived at their decision, which includes transcripts of committee hearings and other meetings. The formal protest allows Democrats to enter their reasoning for opposing the bill into the record.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Kansas Constitution requires the state to provide adequate education funding that is distributed to help poor districts keep up with wealthier districts. The Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, districts sued in 2010 over funding under an old per-pupil aid formula.

GOP lawmakers last year replaced that formula with "block grants" for districts to make the state's spending more predictable. But the justices ruled those changes didn't provide enough extra aid to poor districts.

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