In a blatant attempt to hijack new Constitutionally required funding for Kansas public schools, Gov. Brownback and his allies in the House and Senate have been working behind closed doors on the bill, leaving out their political opponents. That apparently includes some fellow Republicans.
According to the Topeka Capital Journal:
House Appropriations Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, also included a provision for expanding charter schools throughout the state, but House Speaker Ray Merrick said that wasn’t part of the closed door agreement made between House and Senate leaders and representatives from Gov. Sam Brownback's office.
And just what is it Gov Brownback is afraid to debate in front of Kansas parents? According to the LJWorld:
...it would loosen standards for teacher licensing; increase the number of innovation districts that can operate outside of some state rules for schools; and establish a student performance commission appointed by the Legislature and governor.
If these ideas are so good, why must they be "part of a closed door agreement" and attached to a funding bill? Republican Representative Ward Cassidy is a former public school principal and he says "I wish we could keep them separate. I'm old school. I would rather have everything stand on its own."
House Minority Leader Paul Davis called the funding a "hostage" and added "It's certainly a practice that has occurred here before but I don't think it's a good practice."Topeka Capital Journal
"There is a simple solution here and that is to pass the bill that I introduced that would fund the $129 million, and do it as a clean bill."
Davis said enacting the K-12 equalization funding with strings attached would risk further complicating a school finance case that has been in the court system for years and still isn’t fully adjudicated. "The court has not outlined any kind of directive for the Legislature to deal with those issues, and the potential exists that if those issues are included in a bill then it may create more problems with the court," Davis said.
Kansas schools are already in a hole, and this funding is supposed to fill the existing gap. Adding the Governor's ideological pet projects amounts to unfunded mandates for our cash strapped schools. It is clear by now that Brownback has no intention to make Kansas schools nationally competitive. Since 2009, his cohorts have managed to underfund classrooms to the point of violating the State Constitution.
On March 7, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that said cuts the Legislature has made since 2009 in aid to poor school districts were unconstitutional because they created wealth-based disparities. It ordered the Legislature to restore those funds, about $129 million, or find some other way to make funding equitable.
It appears that Brownback and his Legislative allies are determined to use the funding requirement to saddle the law with policy changes they could never get past the voters in a public debate.
Nevertheless, Gov Brownback seems quite proud of this process.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said Tuesday he was optimistic that legislators were getting closer to a school funding solution to satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. "Everybody's hunting for money," the governor said. "You've just got to find the money for equalization." One additional source of money could come from a proposed change in how districts are reimbursed for transportation costs. A Kansas Department of Education analysis of the package estimates that it would save the state about $15 million in aid distributed to all districts — costs the districts would then have to make up from other sources.
Shifting the cost burdens to local districts is not a solution to the Governors failed education policies.