ELLIS — With a court-imposed deadline only about 40 days away, the Kansas Legislature has yet to come up with a school funding plan, those at a town hall meeting with two area legislators heard Friday morning.
Rep. Ken Rahjes, R-Agra, and Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, started their day meeting with contituents at the Ellis Public Library’s community room. Education funding, highway funding and food sales tax were among the topics discussed.
Rahjes,who left after about a half hour for an appointment in Plainville, took the first half of the town hall, updating those in attendance about the state's House of Representative’s activities. The Legislature reached its turnaround day Thursday, when bills move from their originating chambers to the opposite body.
The House has voted on 90 bills this session, with half those votes coming in two days before the turnaround, Rahjes said.
“I could answer your questions like this: Yes, no, we don’t know yet,” Rahjes joked. “Yes, we haven’t done a whole lot; no, I’m not sure when we’re going to get done; and I don’t have a clue what we’re going to do for school finance.”
Rajhes said former Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget proposal of an additional $600 million for schools was a “parting shot,” Rahjes said.
“What the Legislature would like to do is a much more steady approach to what the courts are wanting,” he said.
But, he admitted, there is no plan yet.
“If there is yet, they haven’t shared it with me,” he said.
Billinger said it’s time for a fresh start on education funding.
“I don’t think you need to study something that’s had lawsuits for 50 years,” he said. The first lawsuit over state education funding was in 1972, Caldwell v. State of Kansas.
“I think we need to start over. We need to sit down and say, ‘OK, here’s what we’re going to fund. We may have to get out of bonding buildings, bonding football fields,” he said.
“We have too many challenges to try to do this,” Billinger said, noting that issues such as mental health funding and prison guard salaries are being ignored.
Billinger said he has an intern who is studying how other states fund their schools.
“Maybe we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but we just need to figure out something that’s fair and equitable that everybody can live with,” he said.