Kansas Democrats try to force debate over school funding

House Democrats attempted to force a debate over a school finance plan Friday, frustrated that Republican leaders have so far kept the bill off the floor.

Deploying a rarely used parliamentary procedure, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, made lawmakers vote on whether to bring the education legislation – House Bill 2410 – up for debate. The motion failed 39-77.

The vote was an effort to debate school funding before taxes. Democrats say increases in school funding should determine how large a tax package should be, not the other way around.

House Bill 2410 would increase funding by about $278 million over two years. Democrats indicated before the vote they had an amendment that would have increased that figure to about $600 million over three years.

Lawmakers face a June 30 deadline from the Kansas Supreme Court to enact a new school funding formula.

“Kansans are ready. The Supreme Court is waiting. On Day 95 (of the session), it’s time for the discussion,” Ward wrote on Twitter.

Republicans were almost uniformly united in voting against the motion. Republicans said amendments to the bill were not ready.

“This is purely political theater,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said.

This is purely political theater.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe

Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, said the finance formula is complex and needs time for consideration by lawmakers and school officials about how it would affect 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.”

The push from Democrats came after days of little public progress on taxes. House and Senate negotiators met on Thursday, but didn’t produce a plan.

Negotiators were close to agreeing to put forward a full repeal of the 2012 tax cuts, which would have generated about $1.4 billion in additional revenue over two years. But lawmakers backed off after a lengthy private discussion.

Kansas faces a budget shortfall of about $900 million over the next two years.

Contributing: Hunter Woodall of The Kansas City Star