Kansas State Department of Education | KCUR

Kansas State Department of Education

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

(This story has been updated.)

Kansas continues to underfund its schools, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Monday — a decision that could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars more over the next four years.

But because the Legislature agreed to significant hikes in funding this spring, the justices gave it another year to add to the amount it sends to local school districts.

The high court could have forced lawmakers back to Topeka in coming weeks to fix the problem or face school closures, something the state’s lawyers begged it not to do.

Michael Kinard / Knight Foundation

Segment 1: The former mayor of Wichita discusses the changes he'd make as govenor.

Democrat Carl Brewer served as the first African-American mayor of Wichita from 2007 to 2015. Now he's campaining to be the first African-American governor of Kansas. Today, he joined us for a conversation about the education budget, restructuring taxes and expanding Medicaid.

photo illustration / Kansas News Service

Gov. Jeff Colyer has what he wanted — a bill to make sure schools get a funding increase of more than half a billion dollars is headed to his desk.

But senators who took the final vote Monday weren’t too happy about what they passed. Across party lines, some were already predicting an emergency legislative session in their near future.

Colyer praised lawmakers for finishing a second school finance bill this session to correct an $80 million error in the first.

“I look forward to signing this,” he said in a statement.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas senators will return Monday to find a school finance fix waiting on their desks, hammered out in the House over the weekend.

The bill undoes an $80 million error inserted last-minute into this year’s school funding bill.

“The overwhelming majority of our body wanted to make sure those funds were allowed to be given to the districts,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman said after the measure passed 92 to 27.  “It’s in the Senate’s hands now.”

file photo / Kansas News Service

Changes in federal tax law could actually cost some Kansans more in state taxes.

Kansas lawmakers might turn down that revenue windfall and add an election year tax cut instead. A bill they’re backing would cost roughly the same amount as a court-triggered boost to school spending.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer wants lawmakers to fix a costly mistake in the school finance bill passed after midnight on the last day of the regular session.

“It needs to be taken care of,” Colyer said Wednesday. “We’ll work with the Legislature on doing that.”

The error — a byproduct of confusion and deal-making in the session’s final hours early Sunday morning —makes re-engineering the state’s school finance formula more difficult than usual.

Jim Persinger tells the story with a little frustration.

A school administrator saw school psychologists — his field — as interchangeable with counselors and social workers.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Lawmakers may not know for months whether a deal to pump half a billion dollars into schools goes far enough to end seven years of court battles over whether the state shortchanges Kansas children.

If it falls short, the Kansas Supreme Court could call them back to Topeka this summer with yet another ultimatum to send even more money to local districts.

Scott Canon / Kansas News Service

Arm wrestling over a final deal on Kansas school spending begins in earnest Friday after the Senate settled on a figure that’s much lower than the House’s position.

The bill squeaked through after hours of discussion, winning the last vote necessary only after leaders forced lawmakers who initially abstained to weigh in.

Earlier, with the bill’s fate unclear, Republican leaders in the Senate issued stern direction to members of their party. Some were called into a closed-door meeting with Senate President Susan Wagle.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The Kansas House has had its say on school finance — putting the ball in the Senate’s court. But Senate leaders say they won’t move forward on increasing K-12 funding to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court without a deal to prevent schools from suing again in the future.

 

The message from Senate President Susan Wagle and Republican Leader Jim Denning was loud and clear Tuesday: Kansas must amend the state constitution to put an end to the cycle of litigation over school funding.

 

Scott Canon / Kansas News Service

Republicans in the Kansas House couldn’t win enough votes Monday to increase school funding by hundreds of millions of dollars. Conservatives in their own party thought it was too much money, Democrats said it was too little.

House Majority Leader Don Hineman said legislative leaders would keep working toward a compromise and could come back with a fresh proposal on Tuesday.

“Hopefully we have a different outcome tomorrow,” he said late Monday, but added that the bill as written is “all we can afford at this point in time.”

file photo / Kansas News Service

A report meant to guide Kansas school spending appears to have overshot the mark by more than half a billion dollars.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Segment 1: With deadline looming, Kansas lawmakers struggle to find funding plan that satisfies the state's legislature and supreme court.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Republicans in the Kansas House have unveiled a school funding proposal to send an added half billion dollars to local districts in the next five years. A committee advanced the plan Wednesday night to the full House for consideration.

file photo / Kansas News Service

A report commissioned by the Kansas Legislature made clear just how much it might cost to improve student outcomes at public schools.

It’s so expensive, says a new lobbying group, that it threatens the quality of Kansas roads, health care and other government functions.

That fledgling outfit wants to amend the state constitution, freeing lawmakers to dodge steep hikes in school spending. External experts argue that added money would be needed to fulfill promises to graduate high school students better prepared for college or the workplace.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

Now that Republican leaders have a report they commissioned on school funding, it’s not clear they’ll pursue its recommendations to spend more for better student performance.

Lawmakers continued digging into the numbers Monday and quizzed the study’s authors for the first time since the document was unveiled Friday.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

(This story has been updated.)

Getting most Kansas schoolchildren doing well enough in math and reading to stay on track for college could cost an extra $2 billion a year — or roughly half what the state already spends on aid to local schools.

The figure comes from a report released Friday that lawmakers commissioned to help them judge the costs of getting better classroom results and to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Republicans in the Kansas House on Tuesday unveiled a plan they say will make schools safer.

Really more of a plan to get a plan, it calls for the Kansas State Department of Education and state emergency response and law enforcement agencies to develop statewide standards for “safe and secure school buildings.”

file photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers head into the next stretch of this year’s legislative session after advancing bills offering tax breaks to some smaller businesses, compensation to people thrown in prison unjustly and a welcome mat to industrial chicken growers.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Imagine, teacher Shauna Hammett tells first-graders gathered around a small table, a train whistle.

“What sound is the long ‘A’ sound?” Hammett asks.

Hands shoot into the air, then tug downward as if pulling on a rope. Their sing-song answer mimics the sound of a passing train: “Aaaaaaaa. Aaaaaa.”

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Newly installed Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer described his state Wednesday as vibrant but with trouble spots, telling lawmakers he plans to charge ahead at its problems.

Colyer promised to reform the state’s struggling foster care system, improve its privatized Medicaid program, open government activities into clearer public view and help more Kansans find jobs.

The speech was effectively a State of the State speech by a former two-term lieutenant governor now one week into higher office and trying to distinguish himself from his unpopular running mate, former Gov. Sam Brownback. Brownback delivered a formal State of the State address last month.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Over five years, the bus money that Kansas doled out to schools — that auditors say it shouldn’t have without legislative permission — totaled $45 million.

It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $4 billion a year that the state spends on public schools.

With so much at stake — the state’s single largest budget item — the system is drawing fresh looks.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

The chief school finance official in Kansas — under fire from top Republican lawmakers, backed by scores of people in state education circles — on Friday avoided a suspension.

Dale Dennis, the state’s deputy education commissioner and a walking encyclopedia of Kansas school finance policy, came under attack over an audit that showed some school districts had long been getting money for buses beyond what lawmakers authorized.

file photo / Southeast Kansas Education Service Center

Today, about three of every 20 students in Kansas fail to graduate from high school. Gov. Sam Brownback contends that in five years, only one will fall short.

That would vault Kansas from the middle of the pack to a level no state in the country hits today.

Education experts question if it’s realistic. The governor and the education department, they say, ask for too much too soon. After all, the early years of school weigh heavily. Work with kids learning their alphabet and colors — as much as those studying capitalism and algebra — can determine later who sticks it out.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Fellow Republicans on Wednesday characterized Gov. Sam Brownback’s spending plan — more than $6.6 billion a year — as a beeline return to deficits and an abdication of responsibility in a budding crisis.

The governor, poised to leave for a spot in the Trump administration, unveiled a five-year, $600 million increase in school funding Tuesday evening. When lawmakers dug into that proposal Wednesday, they griped about key details.

Courtesy Photo

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer continues to shape top levels of Kansas government amid anticipation that the U.S. Senate may soon confirm Gov. Sam Brownback for an ambassadorship at the State Department.

Although Colyer made the selection, Brownback — who may have just weeks left as governor — issued a news release Tuesday announcing that former Kansas education commissioner Diane DeBacker will serve as education liaison and adviser to the Governor’s Office. 

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Kansas’ approach to implementing a federal law on equity in education would fail to promote achievement for thousands of students the law was meant to protect, civil rights advocates say.

But state education officials counter that there are good reasons for their strategy designed to ensure that Kansas schools are evaluated fairly.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Fewer than 40 percent of Kansas students are on track to be academically prepared for college, community college or technical school as measured by their scores on the state’s standardized math and English tests.

Scores on English language arts tests went down for the second year in a row. About 38 percent of students scored proficient in that subject in spring 2017.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas education officials did little to promote a public comment period for a school accountability plan designed to steer the state through 2030 and guide nearly $2 billion in federal spending.

While some states that publicized town halls and launched online surveys for their plans collected comments by the thousands, Kansas officials didn’t use such tools nor issue news releases or social media posts about the state’s public comment period.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The massive hurricanes Harvey and Irma have people talking about how much, if at all, climate change adds to such storms’ destructiveness.

In a blog post authored by Paul Driessen, the conservative Heartland Institute disputes that global warming is worsening the weather or that it’s human-caused. And, Driessen writes, fossil fuels “bring rescue boats.”

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