Topeka — The Kansas Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday night to prohibit schools from spending money to implement the Common Core standards for reading and math.
The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, was added to a school finance bill that is meant to respond to a recent Supreme Court ruling that said the Legislature must send more aid to to certain school districts to equalize the property tax rates between rich and poor districts.
If the amendment becomes law, however, it could set up another constitutional battle over education, this time between the Legislature and the Kansas State Board of Education over which body has the authority to set curriculum standards for public schools.
"This deals with the appropriation of funds, the spending of funds, and this is certainly a legislative prerogative and puts the Legislature in control," Knox said of his amendment. "This is an issue that I've heard from my constituents regularly."
But state education officials frequently point to the Kansas constitutional amendment adopted in 1966 that established the state board, "which shall have general supervision of public schools, educational institutions and all the educational interests of the state, except educational functions delegated by law to the state board of regents."
That has generally been construed to include the power to set academic standards for public schools.
Meanwhile, other education officials questioned how such a law could be implemented. Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, noted that the Common Core standards say students in first grade should learn to count to 100 by ones and tens.
"Does that mean we stop teaching first graders how to count?" he asked.
The Common Core standards were developed by a multistate group organized by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the standards were intended to make sure students throughout the country are prepared to go into college or the workplace by the time they graduate high school.
The Kansas State Board of Education formally adopted them in October 2010. Since then, though, conservative groups — including many with ties to the Tea Party — have criticized them as "national" standards being mandated by the Barack Obama administration, because the U.S. Department of Education encouraged states to adopt them in order to qualify for certain federal grants.
State board members, including Republicans and Democrats, have consistently denied that their decision to adopt the standards had anything to do with pressure from the federal government.
The Senate continued working late into the night on its education bill, with the hope of voting on final passage Friday.
Overall, it adds $129 million in "equalization" aid for schools, but most of that would replace money that districts like Lawrence currently have to raise through local property taxes because of previous budget cuts enacted by the Legislature.
To help pay for that, the Senate bill makes cuts in various other parts of the education budget, but also gives districts more authority to raise additional money through local property taxes.
The net effect in Lawrence would be a cut of $1.1 million from the district's general fund. But if Lawrence took full advantage of the increased tax authority, it could recover $1 million of that, leaving a net cut of $109,479.
Meanwhile, the House was forced to send its bill back to the Appropriations Committee, where lawmakers continued to tweak various aspects of it.
By late Thursday night, the panel had restored many of the earlier budget cuts to help pay for the bill. Under that plan, Lawrence would fare better.
But it was expected that conservatives would then try a second time to add "school choice" amendments to expand charter schools and allow tax credits for corporations that fund private school scholarships for certain students.