Kansas Senate passes Brownback’s school funding overhaul

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, speaks against a bill overhauling the way Kansas funds its public schools. The bill passed, 25-14, and now goes to Gov. Sam Brownback, who is expected to sign it.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, called passage of the school finance block grant bill, a

? The Kansas Senate gave final passage to a bill overhauling the way Kansas funds its public schools, sending it to Gov. Sam Brownback for his signature, even though a three-judge district court panel has suggested it may try to block the bill from taking effect.

Action in the Senate came a little more than one week after the bill was first unveiled to the public. It repeals the school finance system that has been in place since 1992, replacing it for two years with block grants to each of the state’s 286 school districts.

The bill passed by a vote of 25-14. Both Douglas County senators, Democrats Marci Francisco of Lawrence and Tom Holland of Baldwin City, voted no.

“While Charles and David Koch may have won this particular battle,” Holland said in an explanation of his vote, “Kansas families can at least take some small measure of comfort in knowing that our Kansas courts — as yet uncorrupted by the supply-side ideology cancer that has metastasized Kansas’ legislative and executive branches of government — that they are keeping a watchful eye on this Legislature’s actions.”

The bill narrowly passed out of the House on Friday, 64-57, and was immediately walked across the rotunda to be read into the Senate record, a move that prevented any wavering supporters of the bill from offering a motion Monday to reconsider that vote. And because the House had put the contents of its bill into a Senate bill — a procedure known as a “gut-and-go” — the Senate was able to take a simple yes-or-no vote to concur with the House, preventing any senator from offering amendments.

Francisco said she objected to the speed with which the block grant bill was pushed through the Legislature.

“The Legislature should be discussing how to appropriate school funding,” Francisco said. “After all, K-12 funding is 53 percent of our annual state general fund budget. Concurring with changes made in Senate Bill 7 in the House provides for very little discussion.”

The new plan makes changes to the current year budget for education and essentially locks in place for the next two years the level of funding lawmakers say they thought they had approved for the current school year while adding some additional money, mostly for increased contributions into the state’s troubled pension system.

Over the next two years, GOP leaders have said they intend to put together a new funding formula.

But it does away with the per-pupil funding formula that has been in place since 1992, as well as the various weightings that provide more money for different categories of students, such as bilingual students and those from low-income households.

“The formula is broken,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who served in the House and voted for the current funding system in 1992. “We are no longer talking about student outcomes and student achievement. We’re fighting for money.”

Last year, in response to a Kansas Supreme Court order, lawmakers approved increases in so-called “equalization aid” that helps districts with less property wealth fund their capital outlay and local option budgets. But those formula changes ended up costing more than lawmakers had anticipated.

The Lawrence school district, however, was one of the few districts that took a cut in overall funding last year — about $2 million, according to school district officials — mainly because of changes in how the formulas count students attending the district’s virtual school.

Under the new bill, according to State Department of Education estimates, Lawrence will lose another $1.6 million compared to what school officials thought they would get when they approved this year’s budget.

The bill now goes to Gov. Sam Brownback, who is expected to sign it. But there is still a possibility that a district court will intervene, and that the Kansas Supreme Court may have to review the legislation before it can take effect.

On Friday, a three-judge district court panel sent notice to parties in an ongoing school finance lawsuit, saying the court may issue any temporary orders it deems necessary, “to preserve the status quo and to assure the availability of relief, if any, that might be accorded should the Court deem relief warranted.”