TOPEKA — The chairman of the House budget committee Friday night called for a special session of the Legislature to answer the Kansas Supreme Court’s call to correct a constitutional defect in state funding of public schools.
Rep. Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, sent a letter to House colleagues questioning political intent of the state’s highest court and asserting the immediate task was to satisfy the justices’ order to make certain K-12 public schools opened on time in August.
“Although the Legislature has adequately funded education throughout this litigation, the court has once again moved the goal post,” he said. “We’ve called foul. But, the court serves as referee, holding the future of our state and our kids in the balance.”
He said continuation of back-and-forth legal debate on school finance was disturbing, but a special session of the House and Senate would allow passage of a bill moving the state closer to ending the “constitutional crisis that never-ending litigation creates.”
“For this reason alone, a special session is necessary,” said Ryckman, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and an influential leader in the chamber.
There is not unanimity on necessity of a special session. Some senators and representatives prefer to call the Supreme Court’s bluff and see what justices do if legislators ignore a June 30 deadline for fixing the constitutional funding flaw. Some of their colleagues were irritated no action was taken Wednesday to pass a bill when the 165-member Legislature was in Topeka for the traditional final day of the annual session.
Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, possesses authority to request convening of a special session.
The Supreme Court left open the possibility of the Legislature and Brownback addressing the immediate controversy by injecting $38 million into the system to equalize state aid to school districts.
“We cannot sit idle as Kansas school children and teachers become collateral damage of the constitutional imbalance,” Ryckman said. “We cannot allow Kansas kids’ education to be interrupted by a political dispute.”
On June 9, 2005, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued a proclamation declaring a decision in a separate school-finance lawsuit before the Supreme Court created an “extraordinary occasion” warranting the first special session of the Legislature in more than 15 years.
The court ordered legislators to provide additional support to public schools by July 1, 2005, to meet a duty under the Kansas Constitution to provide suitable education for every child. Many Republican legislators were upset with the Supreme Court and argued the justices didn’t have authority to tell legislators how much to spend on schools.