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Archive for Friday, April 4, 2014

House passes school finance bill on strong bipartisan vote

April 4, 2014, 6:55 p.m. Updated April 4, 2014, 10:28 p.m.

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— On a strong bipartisan vote, the Kansas House on Friday passed a school finance bill that adds $129 million in new money for public schools, setting the stage for what could be difficult negotiations with the Senate.

The House bill provides full funding for "equalization" aid that helps poor districts hold down their property tax rates to fund capital outlay and local option budgets. But it has almost none of the additional policy actions that conservative Republicans attached in the Senate.

The Senate bill contains funding for equalization aid, but offsets much of that increase with cuts in other parts of the education budget. It also contains several controversial policy changes such as defunding implementation of the Common Core standards, eliminating teacher tenure and authorizing corporate tax credits for private school scholarships.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said she is optimistic a deal can be reached.

"This has happened before. We're a citizen legislature," Wagle said after the House vote. "We come from all points of view, and in the end we compromise and pass legislation that gets a majority of votes in both chambers and the governor's signature."

House and Senate negotiators met briefly late Friday night to review summaries of each chamber's bill. They plan to meet again at 9:30 a.m.Saturday to begin negotiations in earnest.

The House voted 91-31 to pass the bill on final action.

Earlier, Gov. Sam Brownback spoke to the House GOP caucus, urging them to pass the bill. And in the end, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, who is challenging Brownback for re-election this year, urged his caucus to do the same.

"While I'm not wild about some of the issues that are in here, I encourage the body to support this bill and I will support this bill," Davis said on the House floor.

Although the House Appropriations Committee had stripped out many provisions from an earlier bill that made cuts in other parts of the education budget, it left in two cuts that still concerned Democrats.

One is the elimination of extra money some districts get for students who are below proficient in reading or math, but who do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals — money known as "nonproficient at-risk weighting."

Another is a cut in the traditional at-risk weighting — extra money for students deemed at risk of failing or dropping out because they come from low-income households, a strong predictor one's chances of failing or dropping out. The House bill calls for dropping part-time students and adult students from that calculation.

But it restores full funding for other areas of the education budget that were previously targeted for deep cuts such as transportation aid, virtual education and funding for new facilities which, combined, would have cost the Lawrence district millions of dollars over the next two years.

Those changes came through what were apparently acrimonious discussions among House GOP leaders that eventually prompted Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, to resign Monday as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Rhoades said from the House floor that he could not support the bill because it contained none of the other policy issues he'd supported and none of the spending cuts to offset its cost.

The House bill also allows districts to raise more money on their own through property taxes to fund local option budgets.

Overall, the Lawrence district would receive $1.1 million in additional base aid for its general fund budget under the House bill.

In addition, Lawrence could receive an additional $475,000 for its local option budget, even if the school board decides to hold that budget at its current level. That's because the bill raises the "base" number on which LOB's are calculated, and because Lawrence qualifies for a small amount of equalization aid for its LOB.

But the bill also allows districts like Lawrence to raise their local option budgets even higher, from 31 percent to 33 percent of their base state aid. If the local board decides to take advantage of that, it would yield another $1.3 million for Lawrence, of which $257,000 would come from state equalization aid.

Continue checking ljworld.com for continuing updates on legislative action.

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