by Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Kansas News Service
Kansas senators will return Monday to find a school finance fix waiting on their desks, hammered out in the House over the weekend.
The bill undoes an $80 million error inserted last-minute into this year’s school funding bill.
“The overwhelming majority of our body wanted to make sure those funds were allowed to be given to the districts,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman said after the measure passed 92 to 27. “It’s in the Senate’s hands now.”
Lawmakers passed the school funding bill earlier this month to meet a Kansas Supreme Court order that found current school spending insufficient and unfair to poorer school districts.
Lawmakers thought their bill would gradually add in more than $530 million to annual school spending over the next several years. Only when the dust of a dramatic weekend of political wrangling had settled did they discover that the true effect was less than that.
Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer signed the bill but urged lawmakers to fix it, and many legislators were on board with that message. They face a May 7 deadline to show the court their work — and to possibly put an end to seven years of litigation.
Democrats repeated their attempt from earlier this month to go beyond $530 million, which they say isn’t enough. (The plaintiffs in the court case agree.)
Rep. Jerry Stogsdill proposed adding around $300 million, an amendment that the body shot down. If it seems like a lot, Stogsdill said afterward, it’s only because the state has neglected school finance for seven years.
“Somebody has to be the adults in the room and make up for that neglect,” he said. “We wouldn’t be in this position if those Republican conservative legislators and the Republican conservative governor had done their constitutional duty and supported our public schools.”
Some conservative Republicans voted against the $80 million fix, and 20 signed a statement calling the legislation passed Saturday a reversal of important policy.
“This is not a good way to legislate,” they said.
The $80 million error arose when lawmakers voted earlier this month to count as state aid certain money that schools raise by taxing local property owners.
The House’s fix walks that back, thereby upsetting some conservatives. It still asserts the money should be considered state funding and the Supreme Court should count it that way. But it doesn’t fold the amount into the state’s basic per-pupil aid.
The latter was a change in math from previous practice that led to the $80 million funding decrease by inadvertently displacing state dollars that lawmakers intended schools to receive.
Getting the Senate to sign off on the plan won’t necessarily be easy. Some conservative Republicans don’t like the change. The original school finance bill passed with the bare minimum number of votes amid a filibuster by conservative Republicans there.
Sen. Ty Masterson decried the bill in a statement Saturday, accusing the House of “shell game tactics” and of using a procedural move that will prevent senators from proposing amendments to its work.
That’s “the exact same tactic used to ram the flawed bill through the process earlier this month,” Masteron said.
Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the House’s proposal does seem to resolve the $80 million error, but it remains unclear what the Kansas Supreme Court will make of the $530 million infusion.
“It’s still a very open question as to whether this will be enough,” he said. “It’s certainly a substantial improvement over last year.”
Last year the Legislature approved a two-year phase-in of about $300 million for schools.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.
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