Senate advances school finance plan; tax proposal fails again

The Kansas Senate on Wednesday approved a school finance plan that would phase in approximately $235 million over two years. It also approved a tax bill to cover its cost that was quickly defeated by the House.

Differences in the school bill approved by the Senate — HB 2168 — and a school finance measure approved last week by the House — HB 2410 — will be negotiated in a conference committee.

Here is a link to a side-by-side analysis of the two school finance bills and KASB comments and concerns.

Relatively few amendments were added to the Senate bill despite eight hours of debate. It is projected to add about $170 million to school operating aid next year and an additional $65 million the following year. The final vote in the Senate was 23-16 with one Democrat joining 22 Republicans in support.

Before completing debate late Tuesday on the school bill, the Senate paused to consider a conference committee report on HB 2067,  which would have raised income taxes by about $550 million next year and $650 million the following year. That would have covered the approximately $400 million deficit in current state spending plus the Senate school finance plan.

The tax plan passed the Senate on a surprisingly strong vote of 26-14 – just one vote short of overriding the governor’s veto, if necessary.  All nine Senate Democrats voted for the bill. The Senate has generally been viewed as the more difficult hurdle for a major tax increase, and the tax bill largely reflected a proposal from the House.

But shortly after Senate approval and with no debate, the tax bill failed in the House with only 59 representatives initially voting in favor, short of the required 63 votes. As it became clear the bill was failing, many members charged votes, and the measure finally failed 37-85. Both Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, and Democratic leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, voted no.

Here is the Senate roll call vote on the tax bill. Here is the House roll call, but it does not show which member initially supported the plan and switched votes.

On a voice vote, the Senate amended the school finance bill to increase the bilingual weighting based on student contact hours with bilingual teachers from 0.361 to 0.395, the level under the previous formula. It maintains the option for districts to receive bilingual aid based on the bilingual student headcount with a 0.185 weighting, whichever is greater. The House bill contains the lower weighting for contact hours. The amendment was offered by Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City.

The bill was amended by Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, to count students who are not residents of Kansas as 0.75 students next year and 0.5 students in 2018-19 and beyond. The House defeated a proposal to count non-residents as 0.5 students when HB 2410 was debated on the floor. The change is expected to save the state – and reduce funding to several districts – $300,000 next year.

Currently, approximately 640 non-Kansas students attend Kansas schools and receive funding as if they were state residents. KASB policies support full funding for these students.

A second amendment from Sen. Baumgardner was approved to “sunset” the new formula in 2027 and require a review of the school finance system every 10 years thereafter.

The other amendments approved were changes in the non-binding “state policy goal” that “at least 65 percent of the moneys appropriated, distributed or otherwise provided by the state to school districts shall be expended in the classroom or for instruction.”  The Senate approved an amendment offered by Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, to increase that percentage to 75 percent, on a roll call vote of 22-14.

Subsequently, that provision was further amended on a motion by Sen. Bruce Givens, R-El Dorado, to include “the activities of instructional support staff and student support staff, the cost of utilities, the cost of construction of new classroom facilities and the cost of maintenance of classroom facilities” in the definition of instruction, or what counts toward the 75 percent goal.

The Senate rejected the following amendments: prohibiting school districts from using state funds for lobbying (Sen. Pyle); limiting school district cash balances (Sen. Larry Alley, R-Winfield); increasing the maximum capital outlay from 8 to 10 mills (Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills); continuing to count full time kindergarten students as 0.5 (Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe); increasing the at-risk weighting (Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka); removing a 10 percent free lunch student “floor” for at-risk weighting (Sen. Hensley); increasing total funding in the bill to $220 million next year and $200 million the following year (Sen. Hensley); removing a provision that will allow the artificial LOB base to rise with inflation (Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita); allowing local governments to continue to provide tax abatement for the 20 mill statewide levy and capital  outlay levies (Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City); allowing continued state aid for facilities used for extra-curricular activates (Sen. Pettey); and allowing non-resident families who own property in Kansas to be fully funded under the formula (Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland).

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