TOPEKA — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is describing the state Supreme Court as an activist court for threatening to shut down public schools if legislators don’t write a new school funding law.
Brownback was responding to the court’s ruling Thursday striking down a school funding law enacted last year. The court said the law was unfair to poor districts and shorted their state aid by at least $54 million.
The court declared that schools will shut down if a new law isn’t enacted by the end of June.
Brownback said in a statement, “We will review this decision closely and work with the Legislature to ensure the continued success of our great Kansas schools.”
Brownback joins two fellow-Republican lawmakers who are accusing the Kansas Supreme Court of trying to hold taxpayers and schoolchildren hostage with a ruling striking down an education funding law.
House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stillwell and state Sen. Jeff Melcher of Leawood decried the court’s ruling.
Melcher called the decision “a temper tantrum.”
He said, “It’s kind of one of those things, `Give us the money, or the kid gets it.”’
Merrick told reporters that the timing of the ruling was fishy. It came just before the House voted on budget legislation.
Meanwhile, a Democratic lawmaker failed to delay a vote in the Kansas House on budget legislation following the decision.
Rep. Jim Ward of Wichita said the House should have delayed the vote on the budget bill to allow legislators to react to the ruling, but the House voted 95-27 against his request to delay the vote.
It then passed the budget bill 68-56, sending it to the Senate.
The measure makes dozens of changes in the state’s $16.1 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 to eliminate a deficit projected at nearly $200 million.
Earlier Thursday morning the leader of a conservative Kansas think tank and an attorney representing four school districts that sued the state disagreed over the effects of the ruling.
Dave Trabert is president of the influential and conservative Kansas Policy Institute. He says the ruling means the state can find a fairer way to distribute more than $4 billion a year in aid without increasing its overall spending.
But attorney John Robb, who’s representing the districts suing the state, says the court specifically said that shifting aid around isn’t sufficient.