Things got pretty simple last week on this school finance foul-up.
Remember, Democratic leaders stood outside Gov. Sam Brownback’s office threatening to have legislators petition to call a special session of the Legislature to begin June 20 to fix the portion of the school finance formula the Kansas Supreme Court has held unconstitutional — and so egregious that the high court would shut down schools July 1 if it isn’t fixed.
That was good for some photographs and news coverage, except that just Wednesday, Brownback called the special session on his own order — signing a piece of paper telling the Legislature to show up, presumably in clean shirts, at 8 a.m. June 23 to knock out whatever is needed to prevent the court from closing schools.
Look at it from the long view, and Brownback probably made the right call.
Instead of starting on Monday, start on Thursday and hope the Legislature wants to get home and members restart their re-election campaigns.
Now, that all seems pretty simple. Get a committee or two in early, have them assemble a bill that will meet the court’s demands, and on June 23 bring back legislators, or at least as many as will come, and knock out the bill.
Practically, the bill has to do just one thing: Send another $38 million to $43 million to school districts that would see reductions in state matching for their local option budgets. It’s complicated, that LOB formula. Lawmakers earlier this year passed a school finance bill that used not the Supreme Court-blessed LOB formula, but another formula for state aid for capital outlay support which apparently is OK for capital outlay, but not for LOB.
So the fix is relatively simple. Get the language that the court already has approved for LOB, toss in the money, and see how the votes go.
Hard to figure, because that minimalist $38 million to $43 million means some districts will see a reduction in state LOB aid — and make sure the schools stay open — but it means some districts will get less money under the formula than they’d planned on.
That brings up approximately $12 million in so-called “hold-harmless” money, which makes sure no school district — or legislators campaigning for re-election in those districts — will lose state aid, or their legislators get blasted for bringing less money home to their districts.
The early arguments break out several ways. Just pass the bill that meets the Supreme Court’s demand, and let the governor come up with the money — or maybe even find the money to finance it.
Or, they could put in the hold-harmless agreement and come up with another $12 million or so, or let the governor come up with the money.
It comes down to something that simple, unless there’s some acting-out by legislators about the Supreme Court running the state, imposing on the legislative and executive branch powers and threatening to close schools.
There’s an apparent interesting sideline to keep lawmakers from drinking at lunch or later, this proposed constitutional amendment that would allow voters a chance to strip the court of authority to close schools if the Legislature finances them unconstitutionally. That’s the diversion we talk about.
You don’t have to be much of a magician if your assistant is pretty because who’ll be looking at you.
That blast the court, limiting its authority provision, will be good for debate that might make the simple fix-bill relatively easy to pass. Or not.
The special session? Could be two days, or stretch through the weekend and into the next week, against that June 30 deadline to pass a bill so the courts don’t shut down the schools.
Could be simple, but we’re trying to think of the last time the Legislature did anything easily.
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of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report.