December 5, 2023

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Brownback Proposes Adding $600 Million to Public Education in State of State

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Gov. Sam Brownback’s final State of the State Address revealed his response to the state Supreme Court’s school funding ruling, but the speech created more questions than answers.

Gov. Sam Brownback

After confirming that Kansas State University Head Football Coach Bill Snyder will return to the Wildcat sidelines for at least one more year, Brownback said he will propose a budget that includes an additional $600 million for school funding over the next five years.

“This multi-year approach will provide the time necessary for school districts to plan and spend this additional money more effectively,” he told a packed Kansas House of Representatives.

Brownback didn’t say how he plans to pay for the school finance injection. He said his proposal would not require a tax increase, but some of his traditional allies questioned how that would be possible.

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald voted against increasing taxes last year.

“Governor Brownback called for 600 million more dollars for Kansas schools with no hint of where to get it,” the Leavenworth Republican said. “…The taxpayers are in serious danger of another tax hike.”

The Governor will have difficulty finding legislative allies for that large of an increase in school funding.Senate leadership unleashed on the Governor’s budget proposal after his speech.

“He’s put us in a very bad spot. His financial acumen as we know is very low, but this is reckless,” Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said.

Denning voted for the largest tax increase in state history at the end of last session. He also voted to override the Governor’s veto of the bill. Even those who sided with Brownback on last year’s tax package expressed concerns about the spending proposals in his State of the State Address.

Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman said he didn’t see how it would be possible to offer that level of new funding to schools without hurting core government functions.

The state’s revenue picture improved slightly in December with receipts coming in at $80 million more than projected. State officials warned that in part because some taxpayers prepaid taxes due to federal tax reform. Officials anticipate an ending balance of more than $300 million over the next two years. That amount is unlikely to cover the cost of adding $600 million more in school funding on top of requests for more funding for other state services.

The Governor’s speech included proposals for accountability in education. Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is expected to takeover the state’s top job if Brownback is confirmed for a role in the Trump administration, said that is the critical takeaway of the evening.

Brownback listed five education accountability goals in his speech. Kansas should reach a 95 percent graduation rate, he said.

“We’re in a difficult position now,” Colyer said. “The important part will be the outcomes. It’s unacceptable that 85 percent of Kansas students graduate. Getting it to 95 percent is important.”

Brownback admitted in his State of the State address that educational results can’t be resolved with “massive infusions of taxpayer money alone,” but Dave Trabert, President of the Kansas Policy Institute, said the Governor’s proposal is just that, “giving local school boards $600 million more over five years with no strings attached.”

The Governor proposed five objectives for education including increasing teacher pay so the average Kansas teacher salary is higher than that of surrounding states, adding 150 school counselors and psychologists each year, slotting 50 schools to participate in the Kansans Can education redesign project, crafting a way for every high school to offer at least 15 dual credit hours for high school and college credit without additional costs to parents and offering every high school student the opportunity to take the ACT or the Work Keys assessment without cost.

“What we’re requesting is the (state) board of education is supposed to make those things happen,” Colyer said.

The Governor’s intentions may be noble, but Trabert said they require more spending without doing anything to raise student achievement. He said Kansans spent $111 billion on public education over the last 25 years, but only 29 percent of students taking the ACT are college-ready in English, Reading, Math and Science.

“And that’s similar to state assessment scores, with less than 30 percent of students on track for college and career,” Trabert said. “Hopefully, the Legislature will reject this proposal and start holding schools accountable for improving outcomes and making more effective use of the record-setting funding already provided.”

Until recently, lawmakers anticipated Colyer would be giving the State of the State Address and drafting the state budget. However, Brownback announced last week that he would remain Governor until he received confirmation by the U.S. Senate as the U.S. Ambassador at-large for Religious Liberty.

State budget director Shawn Sullivan is presenting a fuller budget picture to a legislative committee today. Parts of his presentation are available here.

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