July 20, 2024

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School districts demand $270 million more than Gov. Kelly proposes

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Governor Laura Kelly and the Department of Education say about $90 million more is needed to comply with the Supreme Court’s school funding opinion, but school districts now say the amount should be $270 million higher.  Bill Brady, lobbying for the districts suing the state (and organized as Schools for Fair Funding), has revoked his support of SB 44, Kelly’s proposal to increase school funding by approximately $90 million each year.

Brady sent an email to Senators who serve on the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance on Feb. 26. He writes in what he called “Amended and Supplemental Testimony on SB 44” that there is a drafting error in the legislation that. He says lawmakers need to add an another $270 million in order to satisfy SFFF and potentially the Kansas Supreme Court.

“Without correction, we cannot support SB 44,” Brady writes.

It’s a stark about-face from what he told lawmakers on Feb. 6 when the Senate committee heard testimony on the proposal.

“If this bill is adopted in its current form and signed by the Governor the parties will simply stipulate to the Court that the issues have been resolved,” he told the committee a few weeks ago.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning told Brady that the bill’s inflation calculations might be off by as much as $271 million, and three times, Brady told the committee SFFF would agree to the provisions in SB 44 anyway.

The Court tasked legislators with increasing school funding to address inflation over the last 6 years, and SB 44 uses calculations created and approved by the Kansas State Board of Education. The Sunflower State Journal first reported Brady’s change of heart. The subscription-required news source reports that Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis denies a calculation error in the legislation.

Brady sent his amended testimony via email to Senators on Feb. 26. Sen. Molly Baumgardner, who chairs the education finance committee, says it’s not testimony; it’s an email attachment.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg

“We had a hearing on Feb. 6. We continued the hearing on Feb. 12. Everyone knew there was a hearing,” she said. “He had between Feb. 6 and Feb. 12 to make that change. He never submitted new testimony through the proper process.”

The committee will meet to approve the minutes of the Feb. 6 and Feb. 12 hearings next week, and Brady’s amended position will not be included.

Baumgardner calls the situation extraordinary.

“To say that this is highly unusual isn’t a strong enough term for what we’re seeing,” Baumgardner said. “We are seeing, in political language, the largest flip-flop that ever could occur.”

Governor Kelly’s budget already doesn’t comply with state law and this new demand from SFFF would expand the deficit by $561 million as calculated by Kansas Policy Institute.  KPI president Dave Trabert said, “Official estimates from Kansas Legislative Research show Governor Kelly’s proposals produce a $1.3 billion deficit over the next four years, and the cumulative impact of this latest school demand increases the shortfall to more than $1.8 billion.”

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