Many Kansas Republicans and Democrats Ready to Work to Fund K-12 Public Schools

In 2013 the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the formula for funding public education was unequal and inadequate. The Legislature fixed the inequities in 2014 but then moved to a block grant funding system for Kansas’ public schools. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled the block grant system was unequal and inadequate and gave the Legislature until June 30, 2017 to fix these problems.

Last year I was one of the leaders in trying to work out a compromise between Democrats and Republicans. By the end of March we had a bill that I believed solved the equity and adequacy issues. In late May, the funding in the bill was slashed just before it was voted out of committee. On the House floor I had several amendments adopted including one that protected Oxford, Belle Plaine, and Udall schools from losing money in the first year due to enrollment drops during the block grant. I also tried to add back some of the money that was cut from the bill at the last minute, that amendment was not adopted. When a Senate version of the bill finally went to conference committee, several things were added including policies that gave wealthy schools even more of an advantage than they have now. I warned the Legislature that the bill, as it came out of the conference committee, was unconstitutional. I voted not to adopt the report, which would have sent it back to the conference committee for more work. I lost that battle, but I was not wrong.

This past November the Kansas Supreme Court did as I predicted. They ruled the new formula unconstitutional on both adequacy and equity grounds. The Legislature now has a deadline. We have to create a plan that will adequately and equally funds public schools by April 30th.

Instead of getting right to work, the President of the Senate, Speaker of the House and the Majority Leaders of both chambers voted to fund yet another study to tell us whether we need to put more funding into public education. The new study will likely have little affect on the court, but it does mean we will not even start discussion of another finance bill until March 15th when the study is published. In-the-mean-time, there are several Republicans and Democrats, myself included, who have begun to talk about alternatives for funding schools. We believe we do not have to raise taxes or cut programs to meet the court mandate. It appears that we will have to wait for House and Senate leadership to begin open and honest discussions in which these ideas can be considered. In my opinion, that is wasting valuable time, especially when the attorneys for the State and the Attorney General told us at a December Education Commission meeting that they needed a plan by March 1st to begin preparing briefs.




Last year the Kansas Legislature engaged in bi-partisan cooperation that had not been the norm for the previous six years. It appears that this cooperation has a good chance to continue not only in the area of education but also, and equally important, in the area of transparency. The Kansas press and more importantly the Kansas public have made it clear they want a more transparent government.

Bundling of Bills - Kansans want an end to bundling of bills. For some time now, bills have been combined in conference committee (members from both House and Senate) to form a bundle, for the purpose of expediency. Unfortunately, it restricts legislators to one vote on a number of bills, which have been bundled into one, without the ability to amend or vote on the bills individually. A legislator may vote ‘yes’ on some bills and ‘no’ on others during House or Senate floor debate, where the bills are considered separately. Bundling in conference committee takes away that ability and forces legislators to vote for legislation they do not support, just to pass legislation they do support.

Gut and Go - The public also wants an end to the practice of “gut and go”. This process takes the contents of a bill and removes it, while placing the content of another bill in its place. The bill keeps the original number and the sponsor’s name(s). This practice has been used for years in conference committees. Bills have commonly been combined, leaving several empty bills, which can then be used for the purpose of avoiding debate in at lest one chamber. This process circumvents the process of floor amendments and it also encourages more bundling. It makes it very difficult for the average citizen to follow the legislative process.

Committee Bills – Currently, a bill can be introduced without a specific legislator’s name on it. The public wants to know who introduces legislation. I believe it is a good idea to require members to sign the bills they introduce provided that the following changes are also made: “Gut and go” practices must be eliminated. Many members do not want their names on bills if the content can be changed. The legislature should end the practice of denying some legislators the right to have their bill heard and worked because they are not members of the majority party or because they did not follow their party’s leadership on some issues.

Protecting Agencies – Kansas’ citizens deserve to know whether state agencies are doing their jobs. The practice of hiding reports or failing to approve audits because they would be detrimental to the administration in power does not make for a more efficient and open government.

Non-Legislative Concerns – Our state’s citizens need to be treated fairly. Just recently, the cost of obtaining some public material has been made prohibitive with a thirty-eight cent per page copy fee. It has also become common to delay reports for weeks. There is no good reason for either practice and both need to end. In addition, the Department of Administration started to charge groups that want to advocate at the State Capitol up to five hundred dollars just for one event with no critera for which groups paid more or less. Fortunately, due to public outcry, the policy was reversed.

I have long been an advocate for transparency in government and have supported and even initiated efforts to end some of the practices mentioned above. It is time for Republicans and Democrats alike to insist on a more open and transparent government.