The Legislature will likely not respond to the Kansas Supreme Court’s late Friday ruling striking down its school funding legislation when it returns for the final day of regular session next week.
Lawmakers reacted with a mix of fury and gratitude after the high court found the state’s school funding system remains unconstitutionally inequitable, even after the Legislature approved changes this spring.
The offices of top legislative leaders have indicated action during Wednesday’s sine die gathering is unlikely. They cite the short notice and need to review the ruling the Kansas Supreme Court handed down Friday.
The court left in place a June 30 deadline to enact a constitutional system — giving lawmakers little more than a month.
The deadline doesn’t sit well with House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell.
“The court has yet again demonstrated it is the most political body in the state of Kansas. Dumping the ruling at 5 p.m. the day before a long weekend and holding children hostage,” Merrick said. “This despite the fact that the Legislature acted in good faith to equalize the record amounts of money going to schools. This court is planning to shut down schools over less than 1 percent of the total education budget.
“Frankly, I find their actions disgraceful and hope Kansas voters will remember this in November when deciding whether these justices should be retained.”
Gov. Sam Brownback said the court has put the education of children at risk by threatening to close schools on June 30. He said his office would carefully consider the implications of the ruling and the court’s “disregard for the proper role of the Kansas Legislature.”
“The court is engaging in political brinksmanship with this ruling, and the cost will be borne by our students,” Brownback said.
House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, struck a different note.
“For years, Gov. Brownback and his Republican allies in the Legislature have refused to adequately fund our schools. Today, the Supreme Court finally said enough is enough,” Burroughs said. “Kansas school children deserve better. The Legislature should take whatever action is necessary to keep our schools open, something Democrats have been calling for all along.”
Action on school finance doesn’t appear to be on the agenda when lawmakers meet next week. That might mean Brownback will have to call lawmakers into special session if the Legislature wants to address the ruling before the deadline.
“There’s just no way,” said Rachel Whitten, a spokeswoman for Merrick. She made the comment Wednesday when asked whether the House could respond if the court issued a response by Friday.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Republicans had failed to comply with their constitutional duty. He called on legislators to take action during sine die instead of debate a resolution on transgender students’ bathroom use, which the Senate appears set to do.
“If they are truly concerned about keeping schools open in August, they should use the sine die session to appropriate $38 million for school funding equity rather than waste taxpayers’ dollars on an election-year charade over which bathroom students can use,” Hensley said.
Some lawmakers and observers believe appropriating about $40 million in additional equity funding would likely satisfy the court. The governor’s office has also floated the number as possibly necessary to respond to the court.
Senate President Susan Wagle emailed GOP senators about sine die on Wednesday, but didn’t mention school finance. Wagle spokeswoman Paje Resner also indicated action on school finance on sine die is unlikely.
It will likely take legislative attorneys several days to review the decision, Resner said Friday just hours before the opinion came down.