Ray Merrick will become next month the first speaker of the Kansas House from Johnson County in 30 years, and do we ever need him now.
The Republican from Stilwell has got to make sure he can counterbalance the new president of the State Senate, Susan Wagle, a Republican from Wichita who is not known for being very sympathetic to the needs of this county.
The single most important agenda for this community is to increase local control of our schools by allowing more local funding.
It is all but certain, with a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars in the state budget, due to drastic tax cuts, that increased funding for schools is not on the horizon.
On the contrary. It will be a miracle if the Legislature does not come with up with new “efficiencies,” as a way to reduce school funding.
Certainly, over the next several years, as revenue shortfalls climb into the billions, it will be virtually impossible for public schools, which represent half of the budget, to escape major cuts.
Merrick is on record as supporting more local control. He supports raising the lid on the Local Option Budget, which is now 31 percent of state funding.
On his website, Merrick states:
“Ray Merrick has consistently worked and voted to increase the local option for Johnson County schools. He has been an outspoken critic of our state’s education finance formula which robs Johnson County schools of Johnson County tax dollars.”
That is pretty clear language. And thank goodness the speaker-elect is such a strong advocate of our schools.
In the last session of the legislature, the Johnson County delegation proposed a lifting of the Local Option Budget lid from 31 percent to 35 percent over two years.
Sen. Wagle made sure the proposal was killed. She personally amended the bill to keep the 31 percent cap intact.
Gov. Sam Brownback has gone on record as opposing any lids on local school funding.
That, of course, is the ideal solution for our schools.
But we do not live in a fantasy world. The odds of that proposition becoming law in a state where rural legislators do not want Johnson County schools to get ahead of them are extremely long.
A compromise, and a reasonable one, is to lift the lid by two percentage points, as was tried last year.
We expect the new Speaker Merrick to make that among his highest priorities.
And we anticipate that, with his new clout, he will be able to muster the votes in the House and cajole Sen. Wagle to bring enough votes to the State Senate.
He will be, after all, the third most powerful elected political figure in Kansas, after the governor and Senate president.
Merrick makes all the committee assignments, decides which bills get to a vote, and sets the overall agenda of the House.
Surely, Speaker Merrick will be willing and able to save the excellence of our schools.
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