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25th District

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CONTACT MELISSA

In Topeka: 
State Capitol Room 168-B
Topeka, KS 66612
melissa.rooker@house.ks.gov
785-296-7686

At home in Fairway
4124 Brookridge Drive
Fairway, KS 66205
melissa@melissarooker.com
913-961-1555

Dear Melissa:

Following the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision stating Kansas schools were funded inequitably to the point of being unconstitutional, and that no funds could be distributed under an unconstitutional formula, a Special Session was called on June 23 to attempt to remedy the inequities.
 
The legislature attempted a short-term remedy in March. At the time, many of us predicted HB 2655 would be found unconstitutional by the court, but felt strongly that we needed to help pass it to ensure there was enough time to try again. Indeed, a Special Session became that second chance.
 
Many competing ideas came to the table ranging from:

  1. Defy the court and refuse to comply,  
  2. Comply but do not provide any new money,  
  3. We need to provide the $38 million and ensure that schools are open for business on July 1.

When we arrived in Topeka, legislative leaders introduced a plan we were expected to rubberstamp without comment. Their plan, HB 2001, provided the $38 million additional LOB money, but did so by cutting funding to every classroom in the state. The court was crystal clear in their opinion – any remedy for equity must not harm adequacy. With other education advocates from across the state, I had been working on an alternative plan because, simply put, further classroom cuts were not an option.

Teaming with a great group of colleagues from both the House and the Senate, we drafted a pair of bills to separately address the $38 million remedy and the issue of districts harmed by that remedy.

  • For a breakdown of how events unfolded in real time, Wichita's KSN News did a great job of covering process.
We called the first the “Safe Harbor” bill because it protected districts from cuts, and the second, the “Extraordinary Needs” bill to provide short-term flexibility for districts most impacted by the remedy. The following is an explanation of the bill provided by the Department of Education and a spreadsheet with data for each district: The Appropriations Committee is stacked to follow legislative leadership and getting a bill introduction was blocked, but we knew we had the votes for an amendment during debate on the House floor. However, an appropriations bill cannot include policy, so it was impossible to move the Extraordinary Needs bill forward. Throughout the day Thursday and certainly by Friday when a debate on the leadership plan was delayed, it became abundantly clear they did not have the votes to pass their plan and did not want to suffer a very public loss. Our alternative had gained enough steam that negotiations were reopened in Appropriations Committee, and they introduced, debated, amended and passed the Safe Harbor bill for full House consideration.

The compromise plan will keep schools open, preserves classroom funding and meets the constitutional test. It passed the Senate 38-1 and the House 116-6 and I voted YES.

Let me be clear - the compromise bill is far from perfect. While we successfully protected classroom funding, Johnson County schools will see the following cuts to Local Option Budget (LOB) equalization aid:
  • Shawnee Mission: $1.4 million
  • Blue Valley: $2.4 million
  • Olathe: $900,000
The Shawnee Mission Post covered Superintendent Jim Hinson's testimony before the Appropriations Committee in favor of the original HB 2001. He was willing to accept deeper cuts to keep schools open across the state. I am pleased we could soften the blow for every classroom in Kansas.
 

Big Picture

I am relieved this crisis was averted, but make no mistake, this was merely triage performed in the face of a larger fiscal crisis. I look forward to addressing the central issues – adequacy of school funding and our fiscal problems – with common sense solutions that will get us back on sound financial footing.
 
What was different about the Special Session?
A healthy process, carried out as designed by our founders, was instrumental in resolving the problem. There was no procedure leadership could employ to block full debate on the floor, no way to prevent us from being able to amend the bill. We had the votes to stop their plan because of broad opposition to classroom cuts, and we had the votes for a clean funding plan that provided the remedy required. THAT was enough to reopen negotiations and reshape the plan.
 
Social media was a useful tool in the evolution of this story. Many of us were sharing our perspectives, while the Statehouse press corps covered each new development in real time. Members of the public showed up, and the pressure was intense for all concerned. Because of that pressure, leadership correctly assessed the situation and made the necessary changes to garner the votes for passage. The Senate signed on when the plaintiff’s attorneys provided a stipulation for the court agreeing that this was a satisfactory remedy. To everyone’s great relief, the equity portion of the Gannon case will soon be closed.

What does the future hold?

Final June revenues will be released on Friday and are expected to be significantly below estimates. When the Block Grant formula passed in 2015, it was billed as a two-year bridge to give the legislature time to craft a new-and-improved finance formula. That time has come. We have an obligation to craft a comprehensive plan to address the critical revenue problems our state faces while tackling the serious issue of passing a new funding formula. We have seen what can be accomplished when all parties work together to solve problems. I welcome the opportunity for meaningful engagement that brings sustainable solutions for the long-term.
As always, I encourage you to connect with me if you have questions or concerns. I am honored to serve.

Sincerely,

Rep. Melissa Rooker
Kansas State Representative, District 25
Serving Northeast Johnson County
Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved.
Paid for by Rooker for State Representative, Shelia Davis, Treasurer,