Some lawmakers say Kansas education funding may be too small

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans pushed the Kansas Legislature on Wednesday toward passing an increase in spending on public schools that even some GOP lawmakers acknowledge might not be enough to satisfy a court mandate.

The Senate approved a bill , 23-16, that would phase in an education funding increase of $230 million over two years. The House has its own GOP-backed plan that would phase in a $285 million increase, and legislative negotiators are likely to draft a final plan, starting this week.

Minority Democrats have argued more money is necessary to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in March that education funding is inadequate. They’ve proposed phasing in an increase of $400 million or more over two years. The state now spends about $4 billion a year on aid to its 286 local school districts.

A majority of Republicans are rallying behind the smaller plans because lawmakers have struggled to agree on rolling back past income tax cuts championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to help fund schools and fix the state budget. Outside of education funding, Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $887 million through June 2019.

The Supreme Court gave lawmakers until June 30 to pass a new school funding law but didn’t say exactly how much education funding must increase.

“I would have liked to have seen more money go to K-12 education, but I think it was a good start,” said Sen. Mary Jo Taylor, a moderate Stafford Republican and a local school superintendent retiring this fall. “I think that there’s a big possibility the court might want more money.”

Attorneys for the four school districts suing the cash-strapped state over education funding have said both the House and Senate plans are inadequate. Democrats predict the Supreme Court will reject a GOP-backed plan and the Legislature will be forced into a special session this summer — with the threat that schools won’t reopen after June.

“Not only will that be expensive, but we must bear the responsibility of playing chicken with the courts,” said Democratic Sen. Lynn Rogers, of Wichita, a local school board member.

But some GOP lawmakers believe their plans will pass muster. Both the House and Senate measures would pay for all-day kindergarten classes and enact per-student funding formulas aimed at boosting spending on programs that help low-achieving students.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a conservative Overland Park Republican, said his chamber’s plan is “reasonably calculated to promote student success.”

Wednesday was the 103rd day of what was supposed to be a 100-day annual session, making this year’s among the longest in state history. Top Republicans had said the Legislature would exhaust its budget for the session on Friday, but staff said Wednesday the money now could last into next week.

The Senate’s vote on school funding followed another round of frustration on taxes.

Late Tuesday night, senators approved, 26-14 , a tax plan that would have raised $1.2 billion over two years by increasing income tax rates and ending an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. It would have undone much of the past income tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging.

But less than an hour later, the House voted 85-37 against the plan, forcing more negotiations with senators on tax issues.

 

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