Governor: Legislature must work on school finance
Funding of Kansas public schools is front and center on the mind of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a point she made in a speech during the Lansing Education Foundation breakfast last week.
It's a point she reiterated during an interview on Friday after her breakfast speech.
In case legislators aren't paying attention, the governor noted "the clock is ticking" on the Legislature's April 12 deadline imposed by the Kansas Supreme Court to fix the $2.7 billion school finance system.
The court early this year said more money was needed for schools and that the Legislature needed to direct more funds to programs that serve students who have limited English speaking skills and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"I think that what is happening right now in the Legislature are sort of two different worlds," Sebelius said. "On the Senate side, there's a very collaborative dialogue going on with senators at the table collecting information, kind of putting together a framework. They see this as a multiyear plan. They're working very well."
The same, the governor said, wasn't happening in the House.
"There's not a lot of dialogue, either between the parties or between the House and the Senate," Sebelius noted. "I'm hoping that will change because frankly we can't pass anything unless people come to the table and work together."
Later in the day Friday, House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said he didn't think the Legislature would meet its deadline.
The governor said there was little choice but for lawmakers to meet the deadline.
"I think the court made it very clear that they intend to be involved themselves if the Legislature can't deal with its constitutional challenge," she said. "We have a bit of a constitutional crisis facing us. The suit was filed five years ago, so this isn't a surprise. Legislators have known this was coming."
Sebelius, a Democrat, has come under criticism from some Republicans for not offering her own school finance plan in the wake of the Jan. 3 Supreme Court ruling. But the governor defended her actions.
"What I've done this year is to urge the Legislature to either use that, use another formula," she said, "but the court has made clear that this is a legislative responsibility."
This time around, she said she was filling more of the role of a "cheerleader," encouraging legislators and their leaders to come up with a plan.
Sebelius said she'd done more to whittle away ideas than to offer new ones this year. Two ideas being bandied about in Topeka drew her criticism: for the Legislature to lessen the educational standards for Kansas schoolchildren, thus making education less costly to the state; or to borrow from other state funds to pay for a suitable Kansas public school education.
Of the "dumbing down" of standards, the governor said, "I think that's a really bad strategy as you look at, I think, students who need to actually learn more than their parents did in order to be competitive. Somebody said it doesn't make a lot of sense to change the standards in order for the Legislature to pass the test; that is not a good strategy for the future."
As for borrowing funds for schools, from perhaps the state highway program or the state employee pension fund, "To me, that's sort of like paying your own mortgage on your credit card; it doesn't get you very far down the road and it creates big problems in the future. We need to have a dedicated source of funds for schools that really continues on into the future."
She said she was hopeful the Legislature would come around on school finance -- and that any fix that would last for years.
In the meantime, she said called on Kansans to contact their lawmakers about adequately funding the state's public schools instead of playing games and trying to make political points.
"'The election's over, let's go to work' is a very important message," she said.