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Thrown-together approach to school finance

Already, months before the October hearing before the Kansas Supreme Court on whether the state needs to pony up more than $440 million in additional money for K-12 schools, the governor has been put on notice that state statutes require him to seek $672 million more in school aid next year.

The court case: School districts already have been awarded -- and put on hold until the Supremes think it through -- that $440 million by a three-judge panel at the district court level. The Supreme Court case essentially will be to apply the official stamp of approval for that expenditure.

The State Board of Education action is not very difficult. State law says school districts should get $672 million more next year. It's not a political statement, not a relatively little-known elected body straining at the leash. It's the law, enacted by the Legislature that hasn't funded the law properly, and hasn't even changed the law so that its reduced spending level at least matches the statutes.

Don't look for Gov. Sam Brownback to provide the $672 million for schools at the state's first "governor's budget amendment" procedure next year, when he won't propose a new budget, just touch-ups to the two-year budget that lawmakers passed in the just-concluded session.

State Board of Education members, the three who voted against fully financing state law and the seven who voted for funding the law, all understand what is happening. The seven can point at the law, and say they just did the obvious. The three can say that their $672 million "just ain't gonna happen" and why look politically naive?

Does all of this look a little raggedy?

The answer, of course, is yes. Not quite what you'd expect from a state government that manages to keep most of the roads open and enforce speed limit laws.

Is there a solution to this? Probably. But it might be a little embarrassing for legislators and the governor who don't have any intention next session -- in an election year -- to increase substantially the state aid to K-12 schools.

Probably the simplest solution is to just change state law on what ought to be spent on school aid and put whatever the Legislature will agree to spend in the statute books. That way, though there will be fights over how much, at some point, there will be a statute that matches with the appropriation and the law will have been satisfied. That doesn't mean that whatever number is agreed to is right or fair or anything else ... it just means that the Legislature has financed the statute.

But, this is going to be embarrassing -- maybe.

That maybe is because most Kansans don't have children in school where desks are going to get closer together and teachers are going to have less time to make sure kids can do long division and put together a grammatically proper sentence.

We'll have to see whether those folks who don't notice the problem at schools care when they vote. That's the maybe.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.