Archive for Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A giant mess’: Governor working with lawmakers to fix $80M error in Kansas school funding bill

Members of the Kansas House look up to the voting board after casting their votes on an amendment to a school funding compromise by House and Senate leadership on Saturday, April 7, 2018, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

Members of the Kansas House look up to the voting board after casting their votes on an amendment to a school funding compromise by House and Senate leadership on Saturday, April 7, 2018, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

April 10, 2018


TOPEKA — Kansas officials have discovered an error in a public school funding bill lawmakers approved that lowers the size of its spending increase by at least $80 million, potentially complicating the state's efforts to satisfy a court mandate.

Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer still plans to sign the bill and will work with the GOP-controlled Legislature to fix the flaw, spokesman Kendall Marr said Tuesday. But the fix might come only days before an April 30 deadline for Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office to report to the state Supreme Court on how lawmakers have addressed education funding problems.

The bill approved by lawmakers early Sunday was meant to phase in a $534 million spending increase over five years, and with the flaw, the figure is $454 million or perhaps a little less.

In Kansas, local school districts impose local property taxes to supplement their state dollars. Legislators included a provision setting a minimum for local tax revenues to be raised — all districts already surpass it, anyway — and counting those dollars toward the state's total aid. Instead of allowing a mere accounting move, though, the technical language inadvertently created a calculation that replaced state dollars with local dollars.

And, with "the train barreling down the track," few lawmakers, even those heavily involved in the school funding debate, had much time to review the details, said Rep. Melissa Rooker, a moderate Kansas City-area Republican.

"It's disappointing. It's frustrating. It's maddening," she said. "It's a giant mess."

The high court ruled in October that the state's current education funding of more than $4 billion a year isn't sufficient under the Kansas Constitution for lawmakers to finance a suitable education for every child.

The Legislature is taking its annual 2½-week spring break and is not scheduled to reconvene until April 26. GOP leaders delayed starting the break so lawmakers could push the school funding plan through both chambers in a single work day.

"If you wait to the last minute, you don't have time to correct your errors," said Rep. Brett Parker, a Kansas City-area Democrat and English teacher who voted against the measure, arguing the increase wouldn't be enough to satisfy the court.

The Kansas debate comes amid tumult in many red states over school funding. An ongoing teacher strike in Oklahoma is part of a movement that also has included action by educators in West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona.

Dozens of Kansas teachers rallied Saturday evening at the Statehouse for the bill that passed, putting aside misgivings that it wasn't big enough. Colyer and some legislators have worried that a frustrated state Supreme Court could take the unprecedented step of declaring that the state can't distribute its education dollars through a flawed funding system — effectively keeping schools closed after June.

The bill sent to Colyer was meant to largely mirror a plan approved by the House earlier. The Senate approved a plan to phase in a $274 million increase over five years.

Colyer and House GOP leaders argue that the annual growth in the state's tax revenues can cover the higher amount of new spending. Top Senate Republicans strongly disagree and contend the higher amount of spending would force a tax increase within two years.

Negotiations between the House and Senate broke off Friday. House GOP leaders then had their chamber pass a new bill Saturday, with Democrats and moderate Republicans engineering its quick passage in the Senate over GOP leaders' objections.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Molly Baumgardner, a conservative eastern Kansas Republican, had argued for resuming negotiations between the two chambers. She said Tuesday lawmakers would have been better served by "more eyes" on the bill in the legislative process.

"It's better that we found it now than six months or a year from now," she said.

But Republican Rep. Fred Patton, of Topeka, the chairman of a House committee on school funding, said language for the flawed provision had been circulating for several weeks.

"We'll do our best to get it fixed," he said.


John Brazelton 1 month, 2 weeks ago

When your education system is based totally on the amount of money spent, it simply proves that no one in the state of Kansas understands what creates a good education system. Cut the administrative bureaucracy and put the extra money in the classrooms. Too many non-teachers are working in the educational system.

Brett McCabe 1 month, 2 weeks ago

And you know what creates a good educational system? How many days have you spent in the past year in a classroom?

Jack Krebs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Hmmm, John: do you have any data to support that? I worked in a small school system for a long time, and the system suffered when we had to cut administrators. You need to people to help with big picture issues: curriculum development, school improvement in regards to pedagogy, teacher development, etc. Librarians (who are increasingly technology coaches for classroom instruction), counselors, data and tech coordinators: all those are important and in my experience are overloaded with the things they have to do.

It has not been my experience that there are an excessive number of non-teachers in at least the school systems I'm aware of.

My 2 cents.

Sam Crow 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Kansas school districts are packed with associate superintendents, assistant superintendents, executive directors, directors, assistant directors, and associate directors. Not to mention the staff to support them.

Lawrence 497 alone has three assistant superintendents, three executive directors, nine directors, and six assistant directors.

Blue Valley with twice the number of students, has three deputy/assistant superintendents, nine executive directors, and thirteen directors.

Last year the Salina schools superintendent made $335,000. Shawnee Mission $317k. Blue Valley $302k.

Brett McCabe 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Have you investigated the staffing at the corporations you support? Or their expense accounts? Or their multi-level management programs? Have you spent 1/10th of the time "investigating" the wasted expenditures of the private businesses you support as you do assailing public servants? No?

Sam Crow 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Surely you jest.

Are you really going to compare the totally taxpayer funded education ever growing bureaucracy to the private sector?

In the private sector, when performance standards aren’t met, costs are cut resulting in layoffs. Just in the last year, such large companies as Hershey, State Farm, Harley, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Devon energy, Weatherford Energy, Snapchat, to name a few.

Not to mention a seemingly endless list of large retail businesses including Toys R US, Limited, Grisogono, Lowes, Macys, Penneys Sears, etc.

Those companies weren’t able to just increase taxes.

Please don't embarrass yourself further.

Richard Heckler 1 month, 2 weeks ago

As I said quite recently these conservatives had no intention of funding public education as we are' seeing right now. There must be more BS on the horizon so should districts be forced to plan on no new spending until they know what is actually coming their way.

It was passed and Colyer said he would sign so that public pressure would back off some.

Now we know that conservatives can never be trusted and need to be replaced immediately
if not sooner.

I do not believe for one second this is a mistake. I SAY this move is calculated.

Conservatives want to turn OUR tax dollars over to reckless spending CEO's and reckless spending BOD's and spend money on golden parachutes and political campaigns.

Frank A Janzen 1 month, 2 weeks ago

We need more English teachers in the legislature to avoid these mistakes in the laws they write.

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