Quick-fix constitutional option to school funding ruling losing steam
Topeka — House Speaker Ray Merrick on Friday said it was unlikely that the Legislature could place a constitutional amendment on the April ballot that would seek to thwart a court order to increase school funding.
"I don't think that is doable," said Merrick, R-Stilwell.
When the legislative session started Monday, some GOP leaders said they could quickly adopt a constitutional amendment for voter consideration during the April 2 election.
Last week, a panel of three district court judges ruled the Legislature had failed its constitutional duty to provide adequate school funding and ordered a $440 million increase.
The decision was blasted by Republican leaders, including Gov. Sam Brownback, who called on legislators to make it clear in the law that the Legislature is in charge of school funding.
Meanwhile, Democrats say the Legislature should work to try to comply with the court order.
"On the education front, it appears to me that Gov. Brownback and the Republican leadership don't have any intention of trying to deal with the school funding issue and do so in a way that would address the looming court case that is now headed to the Kansas Supreme Court," House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said.
Davis said he believed there was enough opposition from Democrats and some Republicans in the House to block constitutional amendments aimed at redefining provisions dealing with "suitable" funding of schools. Proposed constitutional amendments require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate before they can be put before the voters.
"This is an issue that the Legislature is going to be forced to deal with sooner or later," Davis said.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, on Friday briefed House Republicans on the school finance case in his first public comments since the decision was handed down Jan. 11.
Schmidt said Kansas University law professor Stephen McAllister will help on the state's appeal of the school finance ruling.
"We are buttressing our appellate team a bit," Schmidt said. The team also includes private attorneys from Wichita who handled the case at trial, he said.
McAllister has served as state solicitor general in several cases. Last year, he was sent to Washington, D.C., to help attorneys from Kansas and other states challenging the Affordable Care Act.
In 2006, McAllister also argued on the state's behalf before the Kansas Supreme Court in an earlier school finance lawsuit.