Democrat’s effort to debate school finance fails in Kansas House

The leader of the Kansas House Democrats failed Friday in a bid to force a debate on a new school finance formula.

“Kansans are ready,” House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, tweeted Friday morning. “The Supreme Court is waiting. On Day 95, it’s time for the discussion.”

The attempt fell on a 39-77 vote.

House Republicans were swift to criticize the move, with both conservative and moderate members saying the attempt caught them off guard.

“This is purely political theater,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican.

Staff were unprepared for a debate Friday, Republicans said, amendments weren’t ready and several lawmakers were absent.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in March that the Kansas Legislature needed to create a new school finance formula to address adequacy issues in the state’s K-12 public education system.

House lawmakers on the K-12 Education Budget Committee passed forward a plan earlier this week that would have boosted education funding by roughly $280 million over the next two school years.

It has been unclear when the Kansas House will debate the new school finance plan.

“Why not debate it today?” Ward said. “And why didn’t we debate it yesterday, or the day before, or a week ago? This is day 95 of the session and day 19 of the veto session.”

Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican, said the finance formula is complex and needs time to be considered by lawmakers and school officials on how it would impact school districts.

She also said she was hopeful the new formula would get a full debate early next week.

“This is not the appropriate time,” Rooker said Friday. “This just isn’t the way to get it done.”

Ward also tried unsuccessfully to amend another bill Friday morning to allow the state’s public colleges and certain hospitals to continue banning concealed handguns.

The exemption that allows those locations to continue to ban concealed firearms without adequate security expires July 1.