Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Conservatives preparing constitutional amendment to thwart school finance ruling

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Legislators on Monday peppered staff with questions about education funding as they moved toward a showdown with the courts over school finance litigation.

Conservative Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned a recent order by a three-judge panel to increase public school funding by $440 million. The judges ruled that the Legislature had failed its constitutional duty to provide suitable funding for schools.

But Judiciary Chairman Jeff King, R-Independence, is pushing back at the decision.

He said the committee next week would hold hearings on a proposed constitutional amendment that is meant to thwart judicial review of school funding. The proposal would declare that the Legislature has exclusive authority over state funding of schools.

During a committee review of school finance litigation, state Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, said the recent court ruling provided no evidence that increased school funding will increase student performance.

"Where is the hard data?" he asked.

Conservatives also lambasted a cost study done by the consulting firm Augenblick and Myers that was the basis for a 2005 Kansas Supreme Court decision that ordered more funding.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said the Augenblick and Myers study was "basically a task force" that visited school districts throughout the state and asked officials "for a wish list."

"The Augenblick and Myers study became a very subjective view of what certain people thought should be required for funding education," she said.

But Democrats said the study had been ordered by the Legislature and was later updated by the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit to get at the actual costs of meeting state standards for school accreditation.

Under the current lawsuit, the three-judge panel has ordered that base state aid per pupil, which is $3,838, must be increased to $4,492. The state has appealed the decision to the Kansas Supreme Court.