Highway fund transfer to K-12 education targeted

The use of state highway fund dollars to help fund K-12 education would end under a bill heard Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee, but supporters indicated it may take time to get there. 

SB 352 would replace appropriations from the state highway fund with state general fund money to finance school district transportation aid, special education transportation aid and postsecondary career and technical education transportation for high school students. These programs shift over $100 million annually from the state highway fund to school districts. 

The practice began in 2013 after deep income tax cuts reduced state general fund revenue. To avoid deeper cuts in school district state aid, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature agreed to divert highway fund revenues to help fund school district transportation. The policy has continued ever since, including in the current two-year budget for Fiscal Years 2017-18 and 2018-19. 

The direct appropriations for K-12 state aid are not the only draws on state highways fund dollars to other purposes. The Legislature also “sweeps” money from the state sales tax that supposed to be dedicated to transported and transfers it to the state general fund. Approximately 50 percent of the state general fund goes to K-12 state aid. 

The bill was supported by Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, who suggested the Legislature should begin “at least incrementally” reducing reliance on highway dollars for K-12 education. Other proponents were the Kansas Contractors Association and Economic Lifelines, which promotes infrastructure support. 

KASB testified as neutral on the bill, not opposing a shift away from highway funding but also noting that the bill as written would use state general fund dollars to replace highway funds, without an increase in education funding to address the Gannon school finance case and improve educational outcomes. 

KASB also noted that the Legislature has not yet addressed issues raised by an audit of school district transportation aid. Committee Chair Senator Molly Baumgartner, R-Louisburg, said that issue would be addressed separately. 

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