Kansas House speaker seeks new school bill
Topeka Republican House leaders worked quickly Friday to draft a new school funding proposal that more closely mirrors negotiations between the Senate and governor, jettisoning language a committee offered a day earlier seeking to expand charter schools in Kansas.
Speaker Ray Merrick said he wants pared-down legislation that would satisfy a March 7 Kansas Supreme Court order to address constitutional inequities in two funds aimed at putting poor public school districts on equal financial footing with wealthier counterparts.
Merrick said the language about charter schools and some of the other policy changes in the bill the House Appropriations Committee inserted Thursday were outside the scope of the framework he was negotiating with Senate President Susan Wagle and Gov. Sam Brownback.
“When I negotiate, I want people to trust me,” said Merrick, a Stilwell Republican. “These things happen. I can’t be at every (committee) meeting.”
Legislators have until July to make the changes but are quickly running up against an April adjournment date, when they take a three-week break.
“People ought to be able to walk out of here then and know this thing is behind them,” Merrick said.
The appropriations committee bill linked the money to address the court ruling to proposals designed to help parents who want to send their children to private schools and measures encouraging the creation of new, state-funded charter schools, which have more freedom than typical public schools.
Those measures included tax credits for contributors to education scholarship funds that could help children attend private schools, a new income tax deduction for contributions for charter schools and a less restrictive law for setting up new charter schools.
Rep. Marc Rhoades, chairman of the committee, declined to speak about Merrick’s decision but issued a statement explaining how his committee’s bill took shape.
“The piece about charter schools was added in at the last moment at the request of a member, and I take full responsibility for that decision,” the Newton Republican said. “The intention was to have a debate about the issue in committee, never to undermine negotiations between the House, Senate, and governor.”
Senate Minority Leader Terry Bruce said he expected some policy changes to ultimately be approved by legislators, such as alternative certification for teachers, but also preferred a slimmed-down measure.
“You always run the risk of getting too many moving parts in a bill,” said Bruce, a Nickerson Republican.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said Republicans needed to abandon desires to make major policy revisions and quickly pass a spending bill, such as the one he introduced last week.