Kansas Supreme Court backs new education bill; Schools will stay open

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The Kansas Supreme Court has signed off on the latest school funding plan, ensuring students will be headed back to class this fall.

The Court's stamp of approval was the final step toward ending a contentious battle over how money was divided up among public schools. After Justices ruled the original plan was unconstitutional, schools were faced with an increasing possibility that they would not have any money when the new fiscal year started at the beginning of July.

The Court' rejected lawmakers' initial funding bill just days before lawmakers adjourned for the year, forcing Gov. Sam Brownback to call them back into a special session. With just a week to go before schools started running out of money, legislators overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan, compromise plan. Brownback put his signature on the plan on Monday.

Once the bill became law, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and attorneys for the plaintiffs asked the Court to approve it.

In their ruling, the Justices noted that the new plan, known as H.B. 2001, returns to a school funding formula previously approved by the Court in early stages of the case. By fully funding that formula in 2017, the new law falls back into into compliance with the state's constitutional requirement for equitable funding.

“It’s official,” Schmidt said upon hearing their ruling. “The Legislature has satisfied the Constitution’s requirement for equitable school funding, and Kansas public schools will remain open and operating.”

The high court had already ruled in favor of the capital outlay state-aid formula in its latest decision earlier this year. Justices will now turn to whether the schools are adequately funded. A date for oral arguments for that issue has not been set.

Lawmakers generated the $38 million to the Supreme Court's mandate without an across-the-board cut in general aid to schools that was included in an initial proposal Thursday. That brings the total LOB Appropriation to $99.4 million.

Instead, they are fast tracking the sale of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, removing the need for legislative approval. The sale was originally projected to generate approx. $25 million, according to Rep. Jerry Henry (D-Atchison) . Now, lawmakers think they can get up to $38 million for the Authority and use the difference to shore up for schools. If the sale price doesn't go up, or doesn't reach to $38 million, lawmakers will make up the difference with money from the schools’ extraordinary needs fund.

The bill also raids the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Fund (TANF), reallocating $4.1 million from the fund and giving the money to schools. Lawmakers will take $10.5 million from the fund it set up as a result of the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies. They're already dipping into the Extraordinary Needs Fund for $7.2 million.

Here's where the $99.4 million LOB Appropriation is coming from:
$61.8 million - HB 2655 Hold Harmless Aid
$2.8 million - Virtual state adjustment
$2.2 million - Extraodinary need fund adjustment
$5.0 million - State Highway Fund (from DMV Modernization Fund)
$4.1 million - Use of TANF for Pre-K Pilot
$13.0 million - KS Bioscience Auth Sale Proceeds in Excess of $25 million (up to $13 million)*
$10.5 million - Remainder from Master Settlement Agreement funds (tobacco settlement)

*- if the sale of the KS Bioscience Authority generates less than $38 million, up to $13 million of Extraordinary Need Fund will be reduces