TOPEKA — Legislative leaders Wednesday approved the creation of a new committee to study K-12 education — tasked with examining the best funding mechanisms for schools to the definition of a suitable education — that will meet this fall.
The Legislative Coordinating Council mulled proposals for committees from both House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, but opted for Merrick’s plan.
Merrick’s proposal offered a broader scope of study for the committee than Hensley’s proposal, which would have explicitly tasked the panel with beginning to develop a new school finance formula.
The Legislature eliminated the state’s school finance formula this past spring and replaced it with a block-grant system. Lawmakers have two years to craft a new formula before the block-grant law expires.
The elimination of the formula came amidst an ongoing lawsuit seeking more funding for schools from the state.
Under Merrick’s proposal, the interim committee will study the Rose Standards, which focus on preparing students for life outside of school — from personal and civic life to careers and mental and physical wellbeing. The panel also will study the “best funding mechanism by formula or other criteria to ensure adequate Kansas taxpayer dollars are invested in the classroom.”
The definition of what comprises a suitable education also will be studied as well as outcomes to ensure students are well-prepared for future endeavors and uniform accounting across all districts to allow best practices can be replicated.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Nickerson, expressed concern about the inclusion of studying the definition of a suitable education in Merrick’s plan. He said the Kansas Constitution does not refer to “suitable education,” and the state supreme court has focused more on the Rose Standards.
“I don’t know how it becomes a factor in future discussions on how we adequately fund a school finance formula. I would like us to focus a lot on starting to draft or at least get some legwork done on drafting a formula,” Bruce said.
Merrick said his proposal would allow the committee to work beyond just the topics listed on his plan.
“I think they’re going to have the latitude to go a lot different places than just these five different bullet points are. And I think under the minority leader’s proposal, they’d still have the latitude to go places other than these bullet points. So I accept the suitable education argument, but I would expect them to go many other places than just these five bullet points,” Merrick said.
Hensley argued the committee needs to focus on beginning to craft a new finance formula. He said the discussion should happen openly among legislators and not behind closed doors.
Hensley’s proposal would have reviewed factors going into a new formula, including items such as enrollment, wealth as related to a school district’s tax base and special-education costs.
“I believe what we should be doing is starting the process of building a new school finance formula, and I’m not sure the speaker’s proposal really specifically does that, or should I say doesn’t do it enough,” Hensley said. “It deals with concepts that have been debated in years past.”
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, replied Merrick’s plan does move the Legislature closer to a new formula.
“I don’t know how you would even start to build a formula without starting with the five items that are listed here (Merrick’s plan) and trying to comply with the courts and Rose Standards and looking at outcomes,” Wagle said. “To me, what the speaker has proposed is the starting point of a new formula.”
The new committee, formally called the K-12 Student Success Interim Study Committee, will have 15 legislative members from both the House and Senate. The Legislative Coordinating Council approved three meeting days for the committee, though lawmakers signaled more could be approved if needed.