TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law Thursday a bill increasing state aid to public school districts in response to court rulings that the existing system unconstitutionally deprived at-risk students of a solid education.
Brownback said the structure of Senate Bill 19 wasn’t of his design, but it did funnel more state tax dollars to the 25 percent of schoolchildren identified by the Kansas Supreme Court as disadvantaged by the block-grant system previously endorsed by the governor.
The new K-12 funding law, which will be reviewed by the justices, would increase state aid by $195 million in the upcoming school year. The level of additional funding would rise to $290 million in the second year. Lawmakers voted for a $1 billion increase in state taxes to balance the budget and fund expansion in school aid.
“The Legislature missed an opportunity to substantially improve the K-12 funding system,” Brownback said. “They did, however, direct more dollars into the classroom by limiting bond and interest aid, encouraging responsible financial stewardship at the local level.”
Meanwhile, Brownback vetoed House Bill 2313, which would have allowed the Kansas Lottery to install about 300 lottery ticket vending machines in retail locations and launched a similar automated program to sell bingo tickets on behalf of nonprofits.
“This bill serves as an expansion of lottery ticket sales that will negatively impact our communities and our neighbors,” the governor said in a veto message. “The Kansas Lottery has a disproportionately negative effect on low-income Kansans. Rather than investing limited resources in games of chance, our goal is to help low income Kansans find a path to self-reliance and independence through education, work, and savings.”
The veto’s relevance extends beyond those interested in playing lottery and bingo games of chance. Under the bill, new revenue from automated vending sales of lottery tickets would have provided $4 million this year and as much as $8 million annually in the future to community mental health centers in Kansas.
The Legislature returns June 26 to Topeka for a ceremonial closure of the session, and it could take up veto overrides at that time.
Some members of the Legislature, even those who voted for the school funding bill, expressed concern that it wouldn’t be found compliant with the Kansas Constitution. Others suggested justices could affirm the first-year funding levels as adequate, but retain the case to prevent lawmakers from backing away from promised expenditures to the 286 public school districts in the state.
Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, said the legislation signed by the governor was sufficient to survive constitutional review.
“I believe we have drafted a formula that will meet the constitutional test,” said Rooker, who took a lead role among GOP moderates in developing the bill. “Ultimately, none of us can discern what the Supreme Court will rule regarding adequacy, but it is high time for both sides to have their day in court.”
The funding bill targets every penny of the state’s record investment in at-risk funding to students falling short in fundamental subjects and requires that money to be used efficiently, said Rep. Larry Campbell, R-Olathe.
The Legislature and Brownback agreed in 2015 to eliminate the school-finance system that had been in place for decades. It was replaced for two years by a block-grant approach. The new formula made law by Brownback in many ways resembles the system jettisoned a couple of years ago.
Brownback said he welcomed a sunset on the new education funding formula to allow for regular discussion of the system by lawmakers.
Late in the 2017 legislative session, the House voted 67-55 and the Senate voted 23-17 to send the bill to Brownback.