House Speaker Ron Ryckman is crafting a plan to deduct $200 million in annual public school funding from the court-mandated increase lawmakers put in place a year ago, a top Democrat says.
Party leaders are entrenched in a battle over Gov. Laura Kelly's budget, which includes additional education funding, and a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that calls for an inflation adjustment.
Last year's legislation layers a $521 million hike in annual K-12 spending over five years. The governor supports a $92 million upgrade in hopes of settling the state's long-standing legal fight on the issue.
Ryckman's proposal apparently recalculates the starting point. His office said a statement on the issue would be forthcoming.
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, told The Topeka Capital-Journal's editorial board on Thursday that Ryckman has revealed his plan to other House Republicans. Sawyer said he doesn't see how it could pass court muster.
"This is going to be an interesting debate," Sawyer said. "I mean, I was hoping this was something we could do fast and easy. We had this long battle and discussion for years in school finance, a long court battle. It's kind of like we're at the end now. We're in the end zone, and we're so close, and it just seems like it would be easier to push that over and get it done."
Rep. Valdenia Winn, a Democrat from Kansas City and the assistant minority leader, said Republican strategy may be "to slow things down."
She said lawmakers have to start working together in time to meet a deadline for court arguments that is just two months away.
"We have a month to see people posturing, get into position," Winn said. "But in two or three weeks, we need to put our nose to the grind."
Ryckman, a Republican from Olathe, also supports placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot to test public support for giving the Legislature unilateral control over school funding.
The Kansas Constitution requires lawmakers to provide a suitable provision for school finance. Using student performance as a benchmark, the high court has interpreted the constitutional wording as a mandate for equitable and adequate funding.
Last year's bill was an attempt to return to a decade-old plan approved by the Supreme Court. It isn't clear how Ryckman's calculations would reach a different figure.
Mark Tallman, associate executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards, said last year's bill already undercuts the 2009 spending levels it tries to replicate. The bill is based on the Midwest consumer price index of 1.44 percent from 2010 to 2017, he said, but future years are expected to see growth as high as 2.3 percent.
Tallman was aware of discussion about recalculating last year's plan but said he hasn't seen the numbers.
"The court made its ruling based on the state's own evidence," Tallman said. "This would seem to be a change in the Legislature's position."