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Committee Sends School Funding Bill That Few Like To Kansas House

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Kansas News Service
A Kansas House committee finished work on a school funding bill that includes $279 million over two years. An earlier proposal included $750 million of additional funds over five years.

A divided K-12 Education Budget Committee on Monday passed out a school funding plan for Kansas schools that essentially nobody likes.

It adds $279 million over two years: $179 million in the first year and $100 million in the second. After that, school funding would increase based on the inflation rate. The measure was kicked out of committee without recommendation.

A bill lawmakers had been working on for weeks would have added more than $150 million a year over five years. But the measure now on its way to the House floor adds far less than the total of $750 million in the earlier version. 

House Democratic Leader Jim Ward of Wichita predicts the legislation will not pass constitutional muster with the state Supreme Court, which earlier this year ordered the Legislature to revamp its school funding formula to meet a level of “adequacy” before a June 30 deadline. 

“The issue that the court sent the case back is woefully inadequate, and I think everybody around that table who’s serious about it knows it is,” Ward says.

David Smith of the Kansas City Kansas school district, which is a plaintiff in the school funding case, also has concerns that the bill won’t satisfy the court.

“I think the court is going to have to decide whether this lower number meets adequacy,” he says. “If it doesn’t, we’ll be back here in the summer.”

During Monday’s K-12 Committee meeting, at least a dozen spending amendments were proposed. Each amendment featured a discussion of whether the high court would think it was enough money.

The committee has been working on the funding bill since the legislative session started in January. Chairman Larry Campbell, a Republican from Olathe, defended the deliberate pace.

“You got one shot. I mean this is like shooting for the moon. You just don’t rush it and miss,” he says.

Campbell says he’s proud the bill funds all-day kindergarten and adds $21 million for at-risk students: “This is a big step.”

The legislation now goes to the House floor where debate may begin as early as Tuesday evening. Moderate Republicans and Democrats are expected to try to add millions in funding.

“We may have some who vote no because it’s still too much, and clearly many legislators that I think believe it isn’t enough,” says Mark Tallman, the chief lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, who has pushed for a much larger funding package.

The slow progress creates budget challenges for school districts as they prepare for the next school year.

“We have got to get our budgeting going, and not having any idea what the number would be has been really difficult,” Smith says.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KCUR.org.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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