Legislature debates changes to Kansas school funding

Lawmakers are looking at all their options on how to pay for K-12 education following the Supreme Court's ruling this fall. Now, the state's attorney wants Kansans to weigh in on the impact of a constitutional amendment.

After more than an hour of testimony in front of a special committee on school finance. 

"The legislature does not have the power to change the state constitution and that's an important distinction to make,” says KS Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

Derek Schmidt says before legislators move forward in considering any constitutional changes, they should ask Kansans what they think. 

 "My recommendation is that the legislature consider making a recommendation to the people to modify article six, but the people would ultimately have to decide at the ballot box, that's the way the process has to work,” says Derek Schmidt.

A potential constitutional change would prevent the court from closing schools. Schmidt says he's already drafting language for a constitutional amendment change at the request of some lawmakers. However, he thinks lawmakers shouldn't request the change to weaken the court’s authority

In October, the Supreme Court ruled the state wasn't giving enough money to schools. While the Supreme Court didn't give lawmakers a number on what would be enough, the attorney for the school districts involved in the case requested an additional $600 million dollars. 

"I think that's the number that gets closest to what the court would accept so I think that's what we need to point towards,” says David Smith.

David Smith with Kansas City Kansas Public Schools, which is one of the districts suing the state, says with less money districts have had to cut programs impacting student's futures.

"This is going to allow us to do the things that our kids need to graduate prepared for college and careers,” says David Smith.

Republican State Representative Steven Johnson says talking about a constitutional change could be beneficial. 

"I think it's a useful discussion, so having a chance to talk about it I think not only among the legislature, but among the people of Kansas is great,” says Steve Johnson.

State Senator Anthony Hensley says he's against a constitutional change.

"Unfortunately we have had a lot of litigation, but that's mainly because the legislature hasn't fulfilled its constitutional duty. We haven't adequately funded schools,” says Anthony Hensley.

The Supreme Court gave lawmakers an April 30th deadline, however the attorney general's office suggests lawmakers have a course of action in place by March 1st.

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