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Legislators now think session could go long after finance ruling

3/7/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

TOPEKA — On Thursday, Rep. Don Hineman was suggesting the Kansas Supreme Court wouldn’t issue its school finance decision until after the Kansas Legislature adjourned for the session.

Now, with the decision in hand, he thinks there’s little hope for an early adjournment.

Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, agrees, depending on what legislative leaders propose for the budget.

“This could drag us long,” Ostmeyer said of the session. “It’s hard telling. I don’t see us sitting around and debating it a lot. We’ll either do it or not.”

For now, Hineman’s just trying to “decipher what it means.”

Hineman, R-Dighton, especially wants to know just how much money the Legislature will have to come up with, and how much rural districts in western Kansas will receive.

“I’m working on that,” he said of trying to determine the amount.

At least part of what will need to be raised won’t immediately be determined until after a three-judge panel that initially heard the case is able to reconvene and update its numbers.

In January 2013, that panel determined the per-pupil base aid should be $4,492. Instead, legislators passed a school finance package that was $654 less.

With nearly 500,000 students in the state, that’s a shortfall of nearly $322 million.

But that was nearly 15 months ago, so the numbers should be higher.

Estimates by the Kansas Department of Education said the shortfall for capital improvements and supplemental allocations could amount to as much as $129 million.

Together, the shortfall could amount to approximately $450 million.

Legislators won’t have long before they have to take steps to boost the capital improvement and supplemental aid money.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court gave legislators until July 1 to fully fund the capital improvement program or the three-judge panel can void the law preventing transfers from the state to individual school districts.

“I guess we’re going to have to step up and fund some of these things,” Ostmeyer said of what the Legislature will have to do.

While he hadn’t had the chance to read the ruling, Ostmeyer said Senate leaders plan to review the decision and discuss it with the governor and attorney general’s office.

“I’m not leadership, so I guess they don’t have to ask me my opinion,” Ostmeyer said.

But passing a budget is the biggest issue still facing legislators, he said.