Kansas Capitol Connection: A weekly summary of education-related developments before the Legislature

Two weeks from first adjournment, the Kansas Legislature has started what promises to be a difficult process to pass a new school finance plan, state budget and the tax increases needed to pay for it all.

“Please, just take a breath,” House K-12 Education Budget Committee Chairman Larry Campbell, R-Olathe, urged school officials as hearings started on House Bill 2410. “This is just the beginning of a long process,” he said.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Friday, April 7, take a three-week break, and then return for the wrap-up session on Monday, May 1. The Kansas Supreme Court has declared the current K-12 finance system fails to adequately fund schools and has given the Legislature until June 30 to fix it.

HB 2410 would implement a finance formula that resembles the school funding system before block grants by providing a foundation amount per student and weighting factors with additional dollars. But there are significant differences in some areas, such as the way it would fund services for at-risk students, special education and career and technical education. More than 100 of Kansas’ 286 school districts would actually see decreased funding under the plan.

At this point, the bill would provide an additional $75 million in general state aid, while most school advocates say anywhere from $500 million to $900 million is needed for a new finance system to pass constitutional muster.

House K-12 Chairman Campbell said the bill will probably change significantly as the committee works on it but that he hopes to have a final version available for House consideration before first adjournment.

School advocates are urged to stay up-to-date as the bill progresses. KASB has developed a special document to track changes in the legislation as discussions continue.

Meanwhile, a House-Senate budget conference committee was making progress on negotiating differences in the appropriations bill that will close out the current fiscal year without any cuts to schools.

And the Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended approval of a budget for the next two fiscal years that would require $1 billion more in revenue and that doesn’t include any increase for public schools. Earlier this session, the Legislature approved a tax increase that would have provided nearly $1 billion over two years, but that was vetoed by Gov. Sam Brownback. The House voted to override Brownback’s veto, but in the Senate, the override attempt fell three votes short.

The Ways and Means bill makes full payments into the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, restores cuts to higher education and provides a 2 percent pay raise for state employees.

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