Local lawmakers react to governor’s education funding request

Channel 6 News, Lawrence
September 1, 2016
Written by James Ryan Roberts

Wednesday Governor Sam Brownback called for public input on school funding in Kansas, a conversation local legislators say is long overdue.

“We’ve known for two years that this is an issue that needs to be addressed and it only needs to be addressed because the governor replaced a working formula with this stop gap measure,” said Sen. Marci Francisco (D-Lawrence).

Francisco is still hoping for more leadership from the governor’s office. Rep. John Wilson (D-Lawrence) hopes that this announcement is indicative of a more hands on approach from Brownback.

“Finally, after nearly six years, Governor Brownback is open to collaborating with advocates for public education. I hope this represents a turning point in his leadership style, and that he opens the lines of communication on other pressing policy issues. I look forward to working with him,” said Wilson.

The latest plan proposed would take away the power of local school districts to set property tax. This is something Francisco points out the Kansas Supreme Court held issue with.

“The courts asked us to address the question of the local option budget and make sure that it was equitable and probably the easiest way to do that is just adequately fund education without relying on local districts to raise additional property taxes,” said Francisco.

While he supports the idea, Rep. Dennis “Boog” Highberger (D-Lawrence) says he thinks getting rid of the local option budget will be a hard sell to school districts.

“I don’t think they have any assurance that the state is going to provide adequate funding and so the local option budget gives local districts room to go beyond the base,” said Highberger.

Highberger hopes the legislature will return to the formula used before the block grant system, although he says the formula may not be the real issue.

“The real problem was it was never properly funded. No matter what we do with the formula unless we are dedicated to providing proper financing for education, the formula is a secondary question,” said Highberger.

While Highberger and Francisco love the idea of receiving public input on school finance, Francisco questions the timing of Brownback’s offer. Public input will be collected until November 30 meaning any conversation had will be after the general election.

“If we’re delaying this discussion, we’re not giving the public the easiest and most direct way to influence this policy and that’s to elect representatives that they’ve talked to about the issue and they trust to do the right thing,” said Francisco.

This story is originally published on Channel 6 News’ website. Click here to view it.