School finance bills advance; funding does not

Approval of a school finance system to replace the block grants on July 1 took several steps forward Wednesday when the House advanced a bill to final action and the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance recommended a similar bill to the full Senate.

However, passage of a tax bill to fund current state expenditures and the additional costs of the school finance proposals remained stalled, and many question whether the plans will be approved by the Kansas Supreme Court.

The court set a June 30 deadline to correct constitutional inadequacies in school funding. Both bills restore most features of the school finance system repealed by the block grant system in 2015.

The House bill, HB 2410, was advanced to final action on a vote of 81-40. It is estimated to add approximately $180 million in school districts operating aid next year (Fiscal Year 2018), and an additional $100 million in FY 2019. After that, the state foundational per pupil amount would be indexed to Midwest Consumer Price Index. Based on recent years, this is expected to increase an average of 1.5 percent per year, or about $55 million.

The Senate proposal, which was amended into HB 2186, is estimated to provide $165 million next year, and an additional $70 million in FY 2019. After that, the base would be indexed to a rolling three-year average of the Midwest CPI.

Final cost estimates of the bills are still being calculated following amendments yesterday. KASB will provide a complete summary of the proposals later today.

A key vote in the House yesterday was on an amendment by Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, to increase funding in HB 2410 by $200 million next year, an additional $200 million in FY 2019 and another $200 million in FY 2020. The motion failed 47-75. Here is the roll call vote on that amendment.

Also defeated was an amendment by Rep. Jarrod Ousley, D-Merriam, to phase out the tax credit for private school scholarships program on a vote of 46-73, Here is the roll call vote on the Ousley amendment.

The House adopted an amendment to remove a new Local Enhancement Budget that gave approximately half the districts in the state authority to raise local revenues if they have relatively low numbers of low income students, and restored the Cost of Living Weighting. It also removed a new mandate for autism services.

Three proposed amendments were ruled non-germane to the bill. One would have addressed transgender student bathroom use; one would have restored teacher due process rights; and one would have allowed school districts to adopt firearms safety programs.

The Senate Select Committee finished work on its bill shortly after the House began debate.  After extensively amending SB 251, the committee removed all contents of HB 2186 and placed the new school finance language in that bill. It is a procedural move to allow conference committee negotiations between the House and Senate to begin more quickly after the Senate approved the bill.

As passed by the House, HB 2186 included provisions to restore teacher due process procedures. The Senate never considered that policy, which was removed in committee yesterday.

Three key amendments were adopted yesterday by the Senate committee. The first would distribute new special education funding – $12 million next year and another $12 million in 2019 – on the basis of regular student enrollment, rather than through the current teacher-based special education formula.

The amendment was recommended to the committee by Sen. Bruce Givens, R- El Dorado, a former special education director who says the current system skews reimbursement rates to districts because of different teacher costs.

A second amendment, proposed by Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, would prohibit the State Board of Education from approving state bond and interest aid for new facilities approved by voters after July 1, that are used primarily for extracurricular activities.

A third amendment, proposed by Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, removed a provision in the bill to raise the maximum capital outlay levy from eight to 10 mills. The bill continues to allow more flexible usage of capital outlay funds from local mill levies or state aid.

The committee rejected a proposal by Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, that would have replaced the current low and high enrollment weightings with a sparsity weighting based on students per square mile rather than enrollment size. It would have reduced state aid by approximately $50 million, which Sen. Bollier proposed to use to increase base state aid.

Although the proposal did not receive support from any  other committee members, the bill does direct the Senate Education Committee to study the issue of enrollment weightings and whether to use sparsity as a factor next session.

Previously, the committee removed a proposed to raise $150 million per year from a charge on water, gas and electric bills. It approved a proposal to apply the high density at-risk weighting to individual school buildings as well as districts as a whole.

The committee also adopted a number of amendments dealing with various Legislative Post Audit studies, sunsets on weighting and additional reporting on financial and performance data.


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