Governor’s school funding plan is in pieces

by Stephen Koranda, Kansas News Service

Gov. Laura Kelly has said she has an easy solution for funding schools: Just renew the finance plan the Kansas Legislature agreed to last year and fold in an adjustment for inflation. But over in the Senate, lawmakers are picking that proposal apart.

After months of wrangling last year, lawmakers approved a $500 million multi-year boost for schools in response to a state Supreme Court ruling in the long-running Gannon case.

The justices said that plan made strides, but still wasn’t enough to fulfill the mandate in the state constitution.

The governor’s new proposal would add another $360 million over four years.

Kelly, a Democrat, branded herself as the “education governor” during the fall campaign. And she hammered on the issue during her first State of the State speech last month.

“We’re going to properly fund our schools this year. And next year. And the year after that,” she said. “Every year, every month, every day that I’m governor.”

A Senate committee held two days of hearings, where a parade of school administrators voiced support for the governor’s proposal.

They said last year’s funding boost, coupled with the inflationary adjustment, would allow them to continue investing in services for struggling students and plan ahead when hiring teachers.

“We can talk all day about teacher quality, but if we can’t plan on how many teachers we’re even going to staff, it hurts,” said Goddard Public Schools Superintendent Justin Henry. “You just don’t find them in July.”

The school districts suing the state said they would sign off on the proposal as a resolution to their lawsuit.

“Keep it simple, fix the problem, as this bill does, and end the litigation,” said Bill Brady, speaking on behalf of a coalition of 40 school districts, including the four plaintiff districts.

The Republican chairwoman of the special Senate committee created to study school finance was listening, but isn’t convinced simply passing the governor’s proposal would end the legal fight.

“I don’t think we have the assurance that it will be over,” Sen. Molly Baumgardner said in an interview.

The districts have asked that the court retain the authority to monitor the issue in the coming years to make sure lawmakers follow through on any funding promises.

Baumgardner also worries that the inflationary factor would cause costs to balloon even if student enrollment does not. After four years, school funding would increase automatically based on the Consumer Price Index.

“We are in unknown territory,” she said.

She doesn’t believe the governor’s proposal will advance in its current form.

The legislation is also missing funding for things that Baumgardner and other lawmakers consider priorities, such as classroom supplies and free ACT tests.

Republican House Speaker Ron Ryckman is also unconvinced that the governor’s numbers are sustainable. The state has a projected ending balance approaching $900 million for the current fiscal year, but the forecasts for coming years aren’t so rosy.

“Right now, if we do what the governor’s asking, we’ll never be able to pay that bill,” Ryckman told reporters earlier this month.

Ryckman’s skepticism partially stems from his objection to refinancing the state’s pension debt, as the governor has suggested, to free up money for schools.

Lawmakers have so far shown little interest in reamortizing KPERS. Without that, Ryckman doesn’t believe the state can fund schools as Kelly has proposed.

“We have to find another way to do this,” Ryckman said.

Proponents have characterized the governor’s proposal as the last small step to reach a resolution on school funding.

To Republican House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, adding $360 million more is no small step.

“That’s not ‘almost there’ when you’re talking about a $6 billion budget,” Finch told reporters. “It’s a massive spend.”

Senate President Susan Wagle has broken up the governor’s bill so that lawmakers can tackle it in pieces.

The Senate’s budget writing committee will consider the sections that essentially encompass the current school finance formula. A new committee formed by Wagle will take on Kelly’s plan to further boost spending.

Wagle isn’t offering any hints on what those committees could produce.

“I have no idea yet … how the debate will unfold,” she told reporters.

Democrats, meanwhile, are continuing to promote the governor’s proposal as the swiftest way to satisfy the court. Lawmakers are under pressure to arrive at an agreement so the attorney general can file legal briefs by an April deadline.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said Kelly’s proposal is a path to ending the Gannon lawsuit, and Democrats will offer it as an amendment to any school funding bill that comes up for a vote.

“This is a critical issue and it ought to be resolved, and we ought to do it in an expeditious manner,” Hensley told reporters.

House Democratic Leader Tom Sawyer said lawmakers don’t have time to craft a new deal from scratch.

“They’ve got to move quickly,” he said.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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KCKCC culinary team earns silver medal at competition

A Kansas City Kansas Community College culinary team recently won a silver medal in competition. (KCKCC photo)

by Kelly Rogge, KCKCC

Kansas City Kansas Community College’s first all-female culinary arts team brought “girl power” to the High School Team Culinary Challenge earlier this month, receiving a silver medal for the second consecutive year.

The KCKCC Culinary Team competed in the 4th annual WHCA High School Team Culinary Challenge, which took place at Johnson County Community College Feb. 1.

Team members included – Jasmin Reyes, Reyna Espino and Lindsey Quezada, all seniors at Wyandotte High School and Angelina Yang and Sui Theri, seniors at Washington High School. The students attend the Dr. Thomas R. Burke Technical Education Center through the college’s high school program. The team is coached by Chef Justin Mitchell.

“I chose to enroll in the culinary arts program to improve my communication skills because I felt like that was something I was lacking,” Quezada said. “When I found out about the competition team, I thought it would be something fun to do, and it was.”

Chef Justin said at first the team struggled to work together for the first couple weeks. He said he thinks that had to do with missed practices due to the weather. But as they started spending more time together, they learned to trust.

“We implemented a motto that we used every day – ‘what are we going to be? Champions,’” he said. “Then we asked each other, ‘how are we going to get there? Hard work and dedication.’”

Theri said communication was one of the biggest things she learned from being on the culinary competition team.

“I learned that communication and team work are very important for cooking,” she said. “I wanted to enroll in the culinary arts program because I wanted to learn about foods that are different from my own culture.”

In the culinary competition, each four-person team was responsible for preparing a three-course meal in 60 minutes. In addition, they had 15 minutes to demonstrate knife skills. Teams were not competing against each other, but against a set of standards established by the American Culinary Federation. Teams started with 100 points and received deductions based on errors made.

“We were the only all girls team there, so it was a little intimidating at times,” Reyes said. “But I thought that was really cool, that we had all girls. We were the most culturally-diverse team competing that day, which I think was really interesting.”

Students had the opportunity to try out for the competition team in December and started working with each other in January.

The team created the menu, which included an appetizer of sea bass with parsnip cream, pickled radish, carrot, apple dashi and micro purple cabbage; an entrée of beef tenderloin, with mushroom cream, pommes dauphine, root vegetables, fried leek and beef reduction and a dessert of caramel apple tower with tart apple, caramel, walnut, chocolate ganache and almond ice cream.

The KCKCC culinary team created an entree for the competition. (KCKCC photo)
The KCKCC dessert was a caramel apple tower. (KCKCC photo)

Yang said the team created the menu with help from Chef Justin as well as doing research online.

“It was amazing because we learned about working with each other and a lot about communication,” she said. “I think what I learned most from this experience is about finishing something we started and that I could complete a plate by myself.”

Espino, who plays both volleyball and soccer for Wyandotte High School, said her competitive spirit came out in full force on competition day. She said she felt calm and tried to keep a positive attitude during the event.

“We wanted to finish strong,” Espino said of the competition. “During this process, I was able to learn a lot about different types of cooking and techniques and also about working as a team. I have no regrets because the experience was so much fun.”

For more information about the KCKCC culinary arts program, visit www.kckcc.edu or call 913-288-7800 or for Leavenworth students, 913-288-7750.