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Legislators react to finance ruling

3/9/2014

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

State representatives Sue Boldra and Travis Couture-Lovelady still are assessing the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling on public schools funding.

The state's highest court ruled Friday Kansas must spend more money on its public schools. The court ruled the amount of school funding was unconstitutional, but stopped short of telling legislators how much to spend, giving that responsibility to a lower court.

Couture-Lovelady, a Palco Republican representing the 110th District in the state House of Representatives, said he was not in favor of repealing income tax cuts to increase funding for public schools.

"Definitely not," he said. "We have high-ending balances. Things are coming in the right direction."

Boldra, a Hays Republican who represents the 111th District, was unsure what her position would be on repealing income tax cuts.

"I don't know," she said. "I don't have an answer right now."

Boldra said the easiest way to generate state revenue would be to increase the sales tax, but she thinks there are other innovative ways to increase revenue.

"I'm not sure we're going to have to do that," she said of raising the sales tax.

Boldra is fearful, however, a proposal for the state's eventual 100-percent funding of all-day kindergarten -- which has nothing to do with the court's ruling -- now will get lost in the shuffle as legislators instead concentrate on school finance issues.

"I just think we lost all-day kindergarten funding," she said. "That saddens me a great deal."

The Supreme Court sent the case back to district court for more review to "promptly" determine what the adequate amount of funding should be, but didn't set a deadline for a hearing. A district court ruled last year the state needed to add $440 million in school funding.

The Supreme Court did, however, set a July 1 deadline for legislators to restore money for two funds aimed at helping poorer districts with capital improvements and general school operations. Restoring "equalization aid" would cost $129 million annually.

Kansas cut its annual base aid to schools by $386 million during several years as tax revenues declined during the Great Recession, although it did cover some rising costs, such as teacher pensions.

A lawsuit was filed in 2010 on behalf of four school districts and parents, claiming Kansas reneged on promises made in 2006 to provide a certain level of funding for public schools.

Boldra was pleased with at least one aspect of the court's ruling.

"I'm glad that they didn't give us a (specific) dollar amount" to fund public schools, she said. "That outcomes are more important than the dollar."

Couture-Lovelady said now could be the time to look at the funding formula.

"I know there's been some talk about that for the past few years," Couture-Lovelady said. "It's an old formula, I think it has a lot of flaws, especially for my home district there, Palco. Creates a lot of problems for them.

"I think it's a good opportunity for the Legislature to dig deeper into the formula, check out some of those proposals that have been gathering dust on desks the past few years."

The Supreme Court's ruling was expected earlier in the legislative session. Now approximately halfway through, it makes it more difficult to find ways to increase school funding, Boldra said.

"We have a two-year budget," she said. "Whatever we do now, we're going to have to find that money."

Gov. Sam Brownback and other Republican leaders said Friday afternoon the ruling was reasonable.

* Associated Press contributed to this report.