Kansas Lawmakers Expect To Add Millions To School Finance Bill

Mar 29, 2017

Kansas legislative leaders took a couple of days to try to persuade some members of the House K-12 Budget Committee to accept $75 million more in school funding, according to legislators on both sides of the aisle.

But the hardball tactics apparently failed.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the state’s current school funding formula is unconstitutional, and some legislators say the additional $75 million won’t be enough to satisfy the court.

“The vast majority of legislators want to take serious steps to correct the problems identified by the court and our local school districts,” says Democratic Rep. Jim Ward, the House minority leader from Wichita. “The leadership wants to find a tricky budget that doesn’t spend the money that needs to be done. And they’re out of step.”

Rep. Larry Campbell, right, chairman of the House K-12 Budget Committee, confers Wednesday with Rep. Jim Karleskint on the House floor. The K-12 committee will meet Thursday to discuss school funding proposals.
Credit Sam Zeff / Kansas News Service

Legislators are under pressure to get a school funding bill passed before the end of next week, when they take their first adjournment and a three-week break from the session.

“My wish is that we have our work completed on a school formula through both chambers before we adjourn the regular session at the end of next week,” says Rep. Melissa Rooker, a moderate Republican from Fairway. Rooker has offered her own school finance plan and says she’ll be ready with amendments to the bill Thursday that would add significant funding into the system.

Rep. Larry Campbell of Olathe, chairman of the K-12 committee, denies the hardball tactics and says he won’t limit amendments when the committee gathers in the afternoon.

“We’re going to stay there as long as it takes for everyone to have a chance to have their day,” says Campbell, who’s prepared to push for more funding. “Out of the gate I will be offering several amendments that are responding to the numerous people who have concerns.”

Even if the committee passes out a formula Thursday, Ward believes there’s a chance Republican leaders won’t bring the bill to the House floor until after the break. That would delay floor action to the end of April, uncomfortably close to the end of the fiscal year for most school districts.

“It just raises the stakes,” he says. “Schools start to get nervous because it’s starting to come to the end of their fiscal year. … They start issuing contracts for teachers. There’s a lot of stress that we put on the locals when we do it that way.”

Sam Zeff  covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KCUR.org.