Archive for Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Superintendent hopeful about court ruling

State lawmaker from Leavenworth County says ruling ambiguous, calls timeline aggressive

January 5, 2005

In a ruling issued Monday, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the state of Kansas to increase school funding.

Currently, the state spends about $2.7 billion on K-12 education.

According to the court's ruling, the state's Legislature has failed to provide suitable provisions for financing public schools.

The state high court's ruling gives the state until April 12 to come up with a solution to problems with school finance.

And state Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, said that's a short time frame.

"I find it somewhat interesting that the Supreme Court with seven members has wrestled with this issue for nearly eight months now," Wilk said.

"And they're now giving 165 of us four months to figure out a solution. I don't know how realistic that is."

Wilk, a representative for 12 years, is chairman of the tax committee and serves on the federal and state affairs committee. He said it's likely the state will put more money into educating children.

"Again, people shouldn't reach the conclusion that will mean a tax increase," the state lawmaker said. "I think getting a tax increase through the currently elected legislators is going to be next to impossible."

Flexibility counts

Tonganoxie school Superintendent Richard Erickson said he was pleased with the court's ruling.

"It appears to me that it's flexible enough that it allows the Legislature to take some action and develop a plan that they feel is more appropriate," Erickson said.

Erickson said he hoped the result would be an increase in the amount of funds that districts receive per pupil. And, he said he hoped the plan would include more funds for programs that target the needs of at-risk students.

"It's been a difficult four years for a number of schools in Kansas," Erickson said. "And I'm just thankful that I live in Tonganoxie where we have enrollment growth and we have patrons that have supported the increases in the local option budget, patrons that have supported a bond election, and patrons who are supporters of education."

Deciding what's suitable

Roger Pine, a Lawrence Republican, will start his first term in the state Senate next week.

"My take is it may require us to look at the formula," Pine said of the method the state uses to determine school funding.

"We may be looking for new revenue, either within existing funds that the state has, or maybe looking at increasing taxes -- which nobody wants to hear," Pine said. "But that may be part of the solution that has to be done to make this work."

Pine said the ruling gives the legislators leeway.

"They gave us quite a bit of latitude to try to figure out what they meant, and perhaps there's more specific information to come in this regard," Pine said.

But Wilk has another view of the ruling's language, saying the ruling was ambiguous.

"To me it's not necessarily crystal clear," Wilk said. "First and foremost, I was hoping that maybe the opinion would have offered more clarity in one direction or the other."

And, the ruling is not just about funding, he added.

"They (the Supreme Court) basically went on to elaborate that we need to determine what is a suitable education," Wilk said. "We need to determine how we're going to specifically measure that and finance it."

That won't be easy, he said.

"My view is that this move that the Legislature, per the direction voiced by the court, is going to be shining the light and spending a great deal of effort to determine what is a suitable education, which opens up a whole can of worms," Wilk said.

It's obvious, Wilk said, that the basics, such as reading, math and science, are important.

"But is funding the bowling team part of a suitable education?" Wilk said. "... Right now, we allow a great amount of latitude for the money that we send to local districts -- are we going to more narrowly define where the money will be spent?"

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