December 5, 2023

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

House Committee Finalizes School Funding Bill

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Members of the Kansas House K-12 Budget education grappled with a school funding proposal for a few hours on Wednesday. Committee work stalled following an 8 hour-plus marathon meeting last week.

Legislators are tasked with crafting a finance formula that will pass constitutional muster, and committee chair Rep. Larry Campbell halted the committee’s work to hire a constitutional attorney.

“After months of careful study and work on the issue of school finance, we are dedicated to writing legislation that will end years of court battles and educational uncertainty,” Campbell said in a release after canceling scheduled committee meetings earlier this week.

The K-12 budget committee has yet to hire an attorney, and Campbell said the legislation will not be forwarded to the full Kansas House for consideration until an attorney reviews the bill. For now, the proposal languishes in committee until sometime after May 1, the start of the legislative wrap-up session.

As it currently stands, the proposal closely resembles the 1992 school funding formula. Districts receive base state aid per pupil, but school attendees are weighted for a variety of things like at-risk, transportation requirements, and English as a Second Language needs. It sets the base state aid per pupil at $4,006.

Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican, said she worried that might not be enough funding to appease the Supreme Court.

“No one in this building knows the right number,” Campbell said. “Only those judges across the street know.”

Rooker offered an amendment to increase the additional funding in the first year from approximately $150 million to $172 million, but a divided committee, 8-8, rejected that proposal. The legislation increases funding by $750 million over the next five years.

Supreme Court justices allowed lawmakers to phase in funding increases over three years following a 2005 school funding lawsuit.

“Is five years too long?” Rooker asked. “Maybe. I think it’s a realistic attempt to ramp up funding to put resources in place to give our schools the resources they need to do the job they’re required to do.”

School Choice

A divided committee, 9-6, agreed to an amendment that expands a current program that allows students in underperforming schools to apply for scholarships for private schools.The amendment didn’t increase the cost of the legislation, but it allows impoverished students in the lowest performing schools to apply for the scholarship program.

“I am a little miffed that we are now expanding when the last time we were here we tried to narrow,” Rep. Valdenia Winn, a Kansas City, Kansas, Democrat, said.

Currently, students in only 99 schools are eligible to apply. The amendment makes eligible impoverished students in approximately 400 schools.

Senate President Susan Wagle appointed a special school finance committee, but the Senate committee has yet to meet.

Lawmakers are scheduled to recess for a three-week break before returning to Topeka in May for wrap-up session.

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