Opponents, proponents of SB 16 continue the debate

SB 16 is now before the Kansas Supreme Court, but the debate continues over the new school finance law in the court of public opinion. 

During the legislative break, legislators who opposed SB 16 are criticizing it in writing and legislative forums while education advocates who supported the bill are pushing back. 

The most notable political confrontation was prompted by House Speaker Ron Ryckman’s opinion piece, which ran in several media outlets.  

In the piece, Ryckman, R-Olathe, says the K-12 inflation adjustment approved by Gov. Laura Kelly and bi-partisan majorities in the House and Senate was unsustainable and will lead to tax increases and budget problems. 

“Make no mistake: This plan is a promise the Governor and the Legislature cannot keep,” Ryckman wrote. 

Ryckman touted his “Kids First” proposal, which came to light just a couple of days before the end of the regular session. He said negotiations were going on behind the scenes with the governor and some education leaders, whom he didn’t identify, before the governor pulled back. 

His article prompted a response from several public school advocates, who said his inflation adjustment proposal would have failed constitutional muster and that the details of the plan were unknown. 

“We can’t go into much detail, though, because Rep. Ryckman submitted only an outline of his “better” plan to his fellow legislators over 250 days after the Court issued its opinion and with only two days remaining in the regular session. Rep. Ryckman’s “better” plan had no public hearings, no budget runs, no legal basis, and yet he complains because his last-minute deal wasn’t adopted. Instead of proposing a last-minute problematic plan, Rep. Ryckman should have provided constructive leadership through the regular session,” the advocates said.  

The opinion piece was signed by Judith Deedy, Game On for Kansas Schools; Patty Logan, Stand Up Blue Valley; Megan Peters, Education First Shawnee Mission; Nikki McDonald, Olathe Public Education Network and Susan DeVaughn, Educate Andover. 

Opponents of SB 16 also criticized the bill during a recent Cowley County legislative forum that was conducted by the Winfield Area Chamber of Commerce and is on Facebook here 

The speakers were Republican state Sen. Larry Alley, of Winfield; Rep. Cheryl Helmer of Mulvane; Rep. Bill Rhiley, of Wellington, and Rep. Doug Blex, of Independence. 

They were asked why the voted against SB 16 while also voting for a tax cut that mostly benefited corporations. The tax cut bill was later vetoed by Kelly who said it would have caused a budget crisis. 

The legislators noted the tax cut bill included a provision to help individual filers who itemize and a one-cent decrease in the food sales tax. They also said the school finance bill and tax cut bill were not comparable.  

One reason for opposing SB 16 that several of them cited was because they said it didn’t include accountability. Alley said legislators needed to stand up to the courts and Helmer, who works as a counselor in Wichita USD 259, said the waste in large school districts “is absolutely horrendous.” 

Their remarks prompted a letter to the editor in the Cowley Courier Traveler by former state Rep. Ed Trimmer.  

“When each one of our current legislators tell you, for example, we can’t afford education, Medicaid expansion, better mental health programs, or better public safety, and yet they vote to reduce state revenues by $260 million a year to benefit large corporations, they are telling you what their real priorities are,” Trimmer said. Trimmer, who was one of the House Democratic leaders on education issues, was defeated in 2018 by Helmer.  

And recently, state Rep. Alicia Straub, R-Ellinwood, who also voted against SB 16, said on the radio, “It pains me to increase funding to education when I see school districts like USD 428 (Great Bend) purchasing two brand new activity buses to the tune of $435,000. It really pains me to vote for more funding because that’s how it’s being utilized. I don’t see those dollars making it to the classroom or making it to the teachers’ pockets.”

But the Great Bend Tribune reporter Veronica Koons in a column pointed out that the funds for the buses came out of capital outlay and must be used for tangible items, such as new buses or buildings, and cannot be used for teacher salaries. Here is a link to the column.

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