Topeka The bosses did not get their way.
Enough Republicans in the Kansas House ignored their own leaders and joined with Democrats to narrowly push through a school spending plan that supporters say will spread all-day kindergarten across the state, satisfy the Supreme Court and improve learning.
But there's one big shortcoming to the scheme approved Friday that may have broken the biggest political logjam of the 2006 session: No one is certain how the state will pay for the $610 million, three-year plan.
"It's going to put us in a position of having to raise taxes," said Rep. Kathe Decker, R-Clay Center, and chairwoman of the House Education Committee.
The bipartisan coalition that approved the plan skirted House Republican leaders. And the measure, adopted 64-61, was the first major school funding effort to gain a majority as the Legislature moves toward the end of its regular session.
"This is the first school finance bill debated and passed by either chamber this year," Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said. "The final product will not be this bill. But you have to keep the process moving."
More about school finance
- Webcast of live arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court (requires Windows Media Player)
- Brief of the Montoy suit (.pdf)
- Timeline of events in school finance lawsuit
- 6News video: School finance bill to face court
- Plaintiffs: School finance bill fails grade (06-13-06)
- State wants high court to dismiss school suit (06-02-06)
- Legislature approves school finance plan (05-10-06)
- Chat with Bob Corkins, Kansas Education Commissioner (02-02-06)
- House roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan (07-07-05)
- Supt. Weseman's contingency plan (07-06-05)
- More about school finance »
- Conference Committee on Senate Bill 549
- House bill info
- Senate bill info
- Kansas public schools cost study
- Kansas public schools cost study executive summary
- Public Education Finances 2004 (.pdf)
- Senate roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan
- Supreme Court's Show Cause Order (07-02-05)
- Supreme Court's Order Denying Extension (.pdf)
- Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
- Supplemental Note on Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
Sloan was one of 22 Republicans who voted for the bill.
Under the proposal, Lawrence would receive a $2.5 million increase in state aid during the next school year. Funding levels for succeeding years were not available.
'It ups the ante'
Opponents called the measure fiscally irresponsible, saying it would wreck the economy by leading to unprecedented tax increases.
Supporters said the plan would meet court-ordered school funding demands and improve the education available to the state's 450,000 students.
"This satisfies the needs of our constituents, the needs of the children of the state and the Supreme Court as well," Rep. Ward Loyd, R-Garden City, said.
He said growing state revenues could cover the first two years of the plan, but by the third year, the state would be running a deficit.
Sen. Jean Kurtis Schodorf, R-Wichita, chair woman of the Senate Education Committee, said the House action restored momentum to the school finance debate.
"It ups the ante a little bit. It really gets us back on talking about education," Schodorf said.
She said the Senate probably would craft a proposal before the end of the regular session on Thursday or Friday. If that happens, then a House-Senate conference committee will try to negotiate a plan for the wrap-up session in late April.
Sebelius praised the work of the House coalition and said lawmakers needed to work on funding the measure. Tax increases are unlikely, and expansion of gambling failed earlier in the session in the Senate.
"Clearly we need a revenue source for the out years," Sebelius said. "What we don't have the luxury of doing is saying that we're not going to deal with the most important job that the Legislature has, and that is to fund schools."
The plan would allow each of the state's school districts to have all-day kindergarten and would dedicate additional funds for students who are deemed to be at risk of failing. That and other provisions are aimed at satisfying court rulings that the school finance system shortchanges students who are in the most need of services.
Last year, the court accepted as a down payment a $290 million, or approximately 10 percent, increase. The court said the Legislature needed to follow a cost study on how much more was needed.
That cost study says the Legislature should come up with $400 million in additional funds this year. Sebelius and other leaders have said the cost study should be used as a guide for changing the finance formula, and that increased dollars should be phased in over three years.
Another key part of the House plan would eliminate restrictions on school districts raising local property taxes once the courts deem state aid sufficient to all districts. That provision was crucial to getting support of Republican legislators from Johnson County.