The Legislature overwhelmingly voted to send Gov. Jeff Colyer a bill correcting a mistake embedded in a state law that short-circuited expenditure of a chunk of the $525 million that is part of a five-year plan boosting aid to public schools.
On Monday, the Senate voted 31-8 to make clear about $80 million improperly sidetracked in the April law signed by Colyer could be spent by districts across Kansas. The same bill was adopted Saturday by the House.
There was urgency to resolve the error because lawmakers were keen for the Kansas Supreme Court to consider that piece of financing when evaluating constitutionality of the Legislature's five-year expansion of state aid to K-12 education.
Four school districts — Wichita, Dodge City, Hutchinson and Kansas City, Kan. — filed suit in 2010 alleging state appropriations for public education were unequal and inadequate. A district court panel and the Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs. The Legislature has tried to remedy constitutional flaws in aid to school districts by revising education policy and allocating more money.
"I appreciate the Legislature for working to quickly pass this important school finance bill," Colyer said. "I look forward to signing this legislation. This school finance legislation is a good-faith effort to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling on equity and adequacy."
The legislation on its way to the governor would still require each district to assess a minimum 15 percent local-option budget property tax assessment for schools. The lowest LOB among Kansas districts is 18 percent, but some districts are at the maximum 33 percent.
A coalition of House and Senate conservatives in the Kansas Truth Caucus objected to Senate Bill 61, arguing the bill no longer declared the 15 percent LOB would be calculated as part of state aid. Instead, it would remain a purely local contribution to public education and outside metrics tied to financing a suitable education for hundreds of thousands of Kansas children.
"These shell-game tactics compromise the credibility of the institution and have no place in the Kansas Legislature," said Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and chairman of the Truth Caucus. "If it is the intention of the proponents to change the underlying policy of the school-finance law passed by the Legislature, then call it what it is — a complete gut of the local-option budget provision."
A procedural maneuver by House advocates of the fix-it bill precluded the Senate from amending the measure. The Senate's options: accept or reject it.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, voted for the school-finance fix but repeated his concern the law gradually adding more than $500 million annually to the state's public schools would be viewed unfavorably by the Supreme Court. He filed a constitutional challenge outlining his objections.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt, on behalf of the state, and attorneys representing plaintiff school districts are scheduled to submit legal briefs on the education funding package to the Supreme Court by May 7. The 2018 Legislature is expected to adjourn by Friday, but rejection of the law by the judicial branch could result in a special legislative session in the summer.
Meanwhile, the Senate endorsed 28-12 a bill containing targeted budget adjustments for state pensions, higher education, people with disabilities, gambling addiction, preschool education and other areas.
The Senate appropriations bill conflicts with decisions by the House, meaning negotiators from both chambers would convene to seek a compromise. For example, the House recommended a special $196 million payment to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The Senate's bill featured an $82 million appropriation to KPERS.
The budget bill passed by the Senate would alter state law to enable children with traumatic head injuries to receive support under Medicaid. It clarified preschool funding would go first to 4-year-old at-risk children before opening up the program to 3-year-olds. The bill also restored $18 million lost previously by Kansas Board of Regents' universities in a round of budget cuts.
Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita, had the bill amended to require six universities in the regents system to open to the public deliberations and documents on assessment of student fees. Opposition emerged from legislators concerned discussion by university administrators about possible discontinuation of staff or programs backed by student fees would no longer be confidential.