Gov. Laura Kelly said oral arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court revealed eagerness among justices to close this chapter of public school litigation and urged the Kansas Board of Regents to keep steady, or possibly reduce, student tuition rates.
Speaking at a Capitol news conference Friday called to discuss work during the 2019 legislative session, Kelly sharply criticized the Senate for refusing to allow a vote on Medicaid expansion.
"Because of Senate leadership, thousands of Kansans will go without healthcare for yet another year," Kelly said. "For some, a year without health care can very well mean the difference between life and death. I want Kansans to know they have a champion in the governor’s office who will keep fighting alongside them until we win this fight — no matter how long it takes.”
The Democratic governor praised lawmakers for improving opportunity to intervene in the lives of children at risk of entering the foster care system but denounced budget provisions hindering rapid response to prison staffing shortages and inmate crowding.
In terms of the K-12 funding case before the Supreme Court, Kelly said questioning by justices during oral argument "suggested that they are very interested in getting this settled and moving along."
Kelly said she appreciated action by legislators to add about $33 million to budgets of universities and colleges governed by the Kansas Board of Regents. Legislators suggested the Board of Regents use the money to hold the line on tuition.
"I'd even take it one step further and ask for our regents universities to consider reducing tuition to ease the skyrocketing cost of college for Kansas students," the governor said. "We are pricing kids and families out of our higher education system."
Kelly signed a bill allocating $90 million in new state aid to K-12 schools in an effort to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court admonition to address inflationary costs absorbed by districts for years. The appropriation followed adoption in 2018 of a five-year, $500 million package for schools designed to bring state aid into constitutional compliance.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on school finance before the Legislature completes the annual session at the end of the month.
The Legislature is scheduled to close out the session on May 29, but at least 10 working days remain of the 90 days allotted for the annual session. If the Supreme Court were to reject the new school funding law, the House and Senate would have an opportunity to reconvene and take action.
"The governor has received a number of bills," said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita. "We could have line-item vetoes. We could have vetoes of entire bills and you could be called back."
Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, proposed the Senate consider a resolution May 29 calling for consideration by the Legislature of a constitutional amendment mandating Senate confirmation of nominees to the Supreme Court. He justified reform by pointing to a recent ruling that a right to abortion could be found in the state constitution. The amendment needs two-thirds majority votes in the House and Senate to go on statewide ballots.
"It's important we take up that conversation," Masterson said. "We did have six appointed members of the bench clearly thwart the will of the majority represented by these chambers, these bodies and the will of the people."