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School-Finance Overhaul in Kansas Could End Early-Education Push

When the Kansas Supreme Court justices ruled on the constitutionality of Kansas public-school finance, they left some major questions answered. But part of their ruling did direct the state legislature to boost K-12 spending on two operating and capital programs for relatively poor districts by $129 million. Remember, before the ruling earlier this month, the GOP lawmakers who control the legislature were less than thrilled with the idea of getting any court mandate to increase education spending. 

How have they responded? A part of the answer seems to be the sacrifice of another education initiative this year. That initiative is the proposal to boost state spending on early-childhood education that Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, announced at the start of the year. That plan to increase the state share of funding for such programs by $80 million over five years could be shelved to help the state pay that $129 million figure.

The Lawrence Journal-World reported that the plan is "likely to be dropped" and that the governor seemed to accept that the new funding environment created by the court's ruling might delay his plan.

"Everybody's hunting for money," Brownback said.

Right now, the paper notes, fewer than 10 percent of the state's 286 districts offer all-day kindergarten, and the state only pays half the cost. All-day kindergarten was set to be the recipient of Brownback's funding boost. 

While early-childhood spending might be a casualty of a new school-finance bill, an attempt has been made to attach an expansion of charter schools to any new K-12 aid. House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Republican, is apparently displeased and directed a new bill to be drafted without the expansion. But clearly, efforts by lawmakers to pin down new spending for schools in order to address what the court said is an inequitable funding environment aren't operating in a policy vacuum. 

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