Topeka A House committee on Monday advanced a new school funding plan that would increase K-12 education spending by only $280 million over two years, but members of the panel said they are bracing themselves for an intense battle when the bill reaches the floor of the full House later in the session.
Until Monday, the panel had been working on a plan that would have phased in a $750 million per-year increase over the next five years. But after a series of tax bills needed to balance the state budget failed in both the House and Senate, conservatives on the House K-12 Education Budget Committee began pushing for a drastically smaller plan.
By comparison, the Kansas State Board of Education had asked to phase in an $893 million increase over two years. And a three-judge panel that presided over the trial of the ongoing school finance lawsuit called for at least $794 million a year in new funding.
After a series of other amendments to scale back the bill failed to get a majority on the committee, Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Belleville, offered the two-year, $280 million plan, saying he thought it was as much as the state could afford, based on the tax bills that have been considered so far.
But Alan Rupe, an attorney for the plaintiff school districts in the ongoing school finance lawsuit, said he thinks it is far less than what the Kansas Supreme Court will accept.
“The Kansas Legislature appears to be hell-bent on shorting another generation of Kansas kids and not living up to their constitutional obligation to fund schools to an adequate level,” Rupe said in an email to the Journal-World after the committee’s action. “The people of Kansas have asked for, but are not receiving, the adequate education for their kids that the Kansas Supreme Court has indicated their kids are entitled to. “
Despite its smaller size, committee chairman Rep. Larry Campbell, R-Olathe, said the bill includes many features that he thinks are improvements that will satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court’s order to design a plan that targets more money toward the 26 percent of students currently performing below state standards in reading and math.
Those include full funding for all-day kindergarten and increased funding for programs that target bilingual students and students at risk of failing or dropping out.
In addition, he said, total spending on education from all sources, including both local and federal funding, would top $6.1 billion in the upcoming school year.
“We fine-tuned the structure (of the formula), and we all believe that it goes hand-in-hand,” Campbell said. “If the structure is faulty, it takes a lot of money. But if the structure is fine-tuned and we target this money to those we are trying to get it to, then you come down on dollars.”
But Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, called the increased funding in the bill “woefully inadequate,” but he said he thinks the full House will be able to restore funding that the K-12 Budget committee cut on Monday.
“It looks like, between Democrats and moderate Republicans, we ought to have about an 80-vote coalition that is pro-education, but we’ll see if Republicans are there,” Sawyer said. “I’m sure there are 40 Democrats who will fight hard for education. Hopefully we’ll have significant Republican support too.”
To accomplish that, however, the coalition may have to engage in a rules battle with Republicans who could invoke the so-called “pay-go” rule, which is shorthand for “pay as you go.” That rule applies to spending bills, and it says once a bill comes out of a committee, there can be no amendments by the full House that increase the overall amount of spending. Every increase in one area must be offset with an equal or greater spending cut in another area of the bill.
The school funding bill, however, is not strictly an appropriations bill because it also contains substantive changes in law regarding education policy. House leaders have not yet said whether they intend to invoke the pay-go rule.
The bill establishes a formula similar to the one that lawmakers repealed in 2015 when they replaced it with a block grant formula that froze funding in place for two years. It would add about $180 million in state funding in the 2017-2018 school year and $100 million in the 2018-2019 school year. After that, funding would be adjusted for inflation.
An initial analysis by the Kansas State Department of Education showed that the Lawrence school district would see an increase in state aid of about $3.5 million in the first year of the plan.
House Democratic Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, said he agreed with Campbell that the structure of the bill is an improvement over the current funding system, but he said the amount of money included in the bill is inadequate.
“I think the policy side that builds the structure of allocating the funds will be less contentious,” Ward said. “But clearly we’re going to find out where the House of Representatives is on the term, the number of years, and the amount of money we’re going to put into that formula to meet an adequacy standards. And I think that the votes are there.”