House passes school funding fix; blocks efforts to add more money

photo by: Peter Hancock

Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka, who chairs the House K-12 Education Budget Committee, listens during debate Saturday, April 28, 2018 on a bill to fix a flaw in the recently passed school finance plan, which lawmakers hope will satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court's demand that lawmakers pass a constitutionally adequate funding system.

? The Kansas House passed another school finance bill Saturday that fixes a technical problem in the original bill the Legislature passed on April 7, but only after beating back efforts by Democrats to add significant amounts of new money to the plan.

The original bill, which Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer has already signed into law, provides roughly $534 million a year in new funding for public schools, phased in over five years.

It is intended to address a Kansas Supreme Court ruling from October that said the additional money lawmakers added for schools during the 2017 session — $293 million, phased in over two years — was still constitutionally inadequate.

But there was a technical flaw in the way that bill was drafted that would have prevented tens of millions of dollars from being distributed. Original estimates put that amount at about $80 million, but lawmakers said Saturday it was probably closer to $67 million.

Democrats had argued last month that even the $534 million included in this year’s bill was probably still inadequate. And on Saturday, they sought to put more money into the cleanup bill.

The most significant of those attempts was from Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, D-Prairie Village, who offered a package that would have phased in an additional $354 million over the five years. Most of that would have increased the base per-pupil funding formula, while about $50 million would have gone for special education.

But the Republican majority succeeded in pushing back that amendment, as well as several others, saying it was important to pass a “clean” bill that merely reaffirmed the policies that both chambers had agreed to earlier this month.

“I think it was important to live up to what the deal was that we passed on April 7, and I’m glad that we were able to do that,” said Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka, who chairs the House K-12 Education Budget Committee, in an interview after the final vote Saturday.

That earlier bill just barely passed out of the House with the bare minimum 63 yes votes needed for passage as many Democrats argued it spent too little, while conservative Republicans complained that it spent too much.

On Saturday, though, the cleanup bill passed by a much wider margin, 92-27.

“Obviously we gained some,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe, told reporters after the vote. “I think people realized that we lost $67 million that would have been allocated to the Department (of Education) that they would not have had any chance to appropriate. So the overwhelming majority of our body wanted to make sure those funds were allowed to be given to the districts.”

Stogsdill, however, said he still does not believe the Supreme Court will accept the $534 million package, which means lawmakers could be forced back into a special session later this summer.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ll be back here for a special session,” he told reporters. “What the governor signed the other day, at least in my opinion, absolutely comes nowhere close to the constitutionality we were looking for.”

Colyer issued a statement after the House vote saying he was pleased with the bill.

“The school finance plan gets funding to the classroom, requires outcomes for schools and can be afforded without a tax increase,” he said in the statement. “I hope to sign this bill next week.”

Because the House put the contents of its cleanup plan into a Senate bill, the measure now goes back to the Senate, which could simply vote to concur with the House or request a conference committee.

Attorneys for the state are scheduled to submit briefs to the Supreme Court by May 7 detailing what measures the Legislature has taken to pass a constitutional funding formula.

The court has said it would issue a ruling by June 30 and that it would not allow the state to fund schools under an unconstitutional formula after that date.