Topeka — The Kansas Senate on Monday advanced a budget bill that would cut general state aid to schools but would add $25.3 million in the current fiscal year for special education funding to avoid losing federal aid.
An amendment to strip out the special education funding and keep the bill in line with a proposal by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback failed, 16-23.
The vote was seen by some as a test of Brownback’s pull in the Senate.
“We have a governor who wants to work with us,” said Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who voted to take out the special education funding.
Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said, “It’s irresponsible at this point to add spending to a completely moving target.”
But others argued that the federal government was threatening to withhold from $21 million to $26 million in special education funding if the state didn’t meet the federal government’s required “maintenance of effort” in school finance.
The state has already suffered a $2 million annual penalty from the federal government, said Sen. Jean Kurtis Schodorf, R-Wichita.
And other senators said school districts needed to know now if they were going to get the money in order to better plan.
Of the 16 who voted for the amendment to take out the $25.3 million, all were Republicans. Of the 23 opposed to the amendment and wanted to keep the money in, there were 15 Republicans and all eight Democrats.
The Senate was expected to give final approval today. That would set up negotiations with the House, which passed its own plan that doesn’t include the increase in special education funding.
The Senate plan would reduce general state aid to schools by about $60 per student, while the House plan cuts deeper at $75 per student.
Another difference between the House and Senate bills is that the House plan includes a provision that would cut by 7.5 percent the pay of legislators, state officers, judges and regents employees making more than $100,000 per year.
But some critics of that have said the cut to high-wage state employees at regents institutions would chase away top-flight researchers and doctors at KU and other schools.
The Senate bill does not apply the pay cut to regents employees.