TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Big differences among Republican lawmakers over how much to increase spending on Kansas’ public schools forced them to return Saturday to the Statehouse under increasing pressure to pass a plan that could satisfy a court mandate on education funding.
Some legislators and GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer have worried that a frustrated state Supreme Court would take the unprecedented step of preventing the state from distributing dollars through a flawed education funding system — effectively closing schools statewide.
House and Senate negotiators had several rounds of talks Friday afternoon and evening to resolve the differences between their rival education funding plans. But the talks broke off abruptly Friday night when it became clear that the negotiators weren’t getting closer to agreeing on the core issue of how much to spend.
The House plan would phase in a roughly $520 million increase in education funding over five years. The Senate’s figure is $274 million.
“Folks are talking, and we’re not getting much closer,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a Kansas City-area Republican, said Friday night. “We’re not making progress, at least not at this point.”
The Supreme Court gave Attorney General Derek Schmidt until April 30 to report on how the GOP-controlled Legislature responded to an education funding ruling last fall. Schmidt sent a letter Friday to legislative leaders in both parties, expressing “profound concern” that no school funding bill has passed.
The court declared in October that the state’s current funding of more than $4 billion a year is insufficient for lawmakers to fulfill their duty under the Kansas Constitution to finance a suitable education for every child.
Colyer and lawmakers want to avoid a tax increase, and Senate GOP leaders have excoriated the House’s plan as likely to force one within two years. Democrats do not think the House plan or the Senate plan would satisfy the court.
The Legislature had been scheduled to start its annual 2½-week spring break Saturday, then return to the Statehouse on April 26 — only four days before the court’s deadline for Schmidt. For now, legislative leaders expect to heed calls from Colyer and Schmidt to delay their break until a school funding bill has passed.
They do face a potential hurdle: Saturday was the 90th calendar day since lawmakers convened their annual session, and the state constitution requires two-thirds majorities of both houses to pass a resolution to stay in session longer. In the past, it’s not been a problem.
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