TOPEKA — Lawmakers working later than expected Wednesday embraced a plan to add $100 million annually in public school funding for the next five years.
Members of the House K-12 Education Budget committee approved the proposal from Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, despite concerns over the potential need for future tax increases and whether the amount will satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court.
The Legislature faces an April 30 deadline to submit a plan to the high court that can survive tests for adequacy and equity. Lawmakers are scheduled to work through next week before taking a three-week break. A school funding plan has yet to pass out of committee for consideration before the full House or Senate.
"Now is the time to move," Johnson told committee members.
Johnson's plan would provide annual raises in the base state aid to students in an attempt to match inflation-adjusted levels approved by the high court more than a decade ago. With an overhaul of the state's internet sales tax and aggressive revenue estimates, Johnson said, the plan could be sustained without additional taxes.
Several representatives were skeptical of the plan's outcome but offered support in the spirit of showing progress.
"This is a credible number that gets us in the neighborhood that we need to be in to show the commitment to education," said Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway.
Addressing the "elephant in the room," Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, pointed to a study presented by a consultant earlier this month that suggested the state should raise funding in the next five years by as much as $2 billion annually.
"I think we're rolling the dice if we do this," Trimmer said. "I don't think anybody wants to be here in June and July with the risk of the school shutdown and special session."
Word about the prospect of a new plan surfaced among representatives as they returned to the House floor Wednesday afternoon. The budget committee, which usually meets in the early afternoon, was delayed until 6:30 p.m. while the full body worked through other bills.
Johnson offered his plan as an amendment to House Bill 2445, which was introduced Jan. 5 as a vehicle for addressing the court's concerns with the way money is distributed. Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, said he appreciated the attempted compromise but lacked optimism for funding the plan without eventually raising taxes to support it.
Five years is a long time to rely on the national economic outlook, Huebert said, and current litigation is the result of a funding plan that died after the Great Recession of 2008.
"I think there's a strong possibility that we'll see another recession," Huebert said.
Johnson shared the concerns of colleagues but urged support for moving forward. They approved the amendment on a voice vote.
"I am worried about what is legal," Johnson said. "And I'm very worried about what is just as I look not only to education but all the needs we will continue to face."