Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of articles highlighting the Telegram's Top 10 local news stories of 2018.
In April, after hours of down-to-the-minute disagreement between the Kansas House and Senate regarding how much money was necessary to adequately fund the state’s schools, legislators passed a $500 million increase to K-12 schools over the next five years.
In June, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that it was not enough.
The progress and discussions surrounding it are The Telegram’s No. 7 news story of 2018.
The new plan was passed in the hopes of meeting the court’s 2017 ruling that the state’s current school finance formula was not adequately funding schools in the eyes of the Kansas state constitution.
The $500 million bill was met with dissatisfaction from both sides immediately following the approval — Republican representatives largely opposed the bill for being too high, while Democrats were concerned the Supreme Court still would not find it adequate.
Sen. John Doll (I-Garden City), Rep. John Wheeler (R-Garden City) and Rep. Russ Jennings (R-Lakin) all voted for the bill but were not pleased with the political back and forth surrounding it. Doll and Wheeler said that under the circumstances, the bill was the best the Legislature could have done.
“I think we got as much money for the schools that would give us the best chance to satisfy the courts and be able to pass legislation,” Doll told The Telegram in April. “It was a win in that aspect, and at the end of the day, that’s all we could do. I think if we would have asked for more money, we wouldn’t have got the (votes). And if we asked for less money, there was no way it would have gotten through the courts.”
Local superintendents largely supported the bill following the approval in April, hoping the additional funding could go toward teacher salaries, new positions and supplies. But for smaller schools with declining enrollment, such as Healy USD 468, the new plan could mean significant funding cuts.
Amidst the arrival of the newly-passed plan, some legislators proposed an amendment to the Kansas constitution that would limit the courts’ say in what qualifies as adequate public funding education, placing the power instead solely with the Legislature. Local superintendents were universally wary.
Shortly after the bill passed, the Kansas Department of Education found a nearly $80 million error in the fund distribution formula for the first year. Instead of providing school districts with a $150 million funding increase in its first year, as intended, it actually would provide about a $72 million increase.
Regardless, Gov. Jeff Colyer signed off on the bill shortly after it passed the Legislature, calling it a “very strong bill” and saying that lawmakers could correct any errors when they returned to session.
This past summer, the Supreme Court ruled that the new school finance plan was still inadequate and gave the Legislature a year to correct it. It said if lawmakers add compensation for inflation, the plan will then be compliant with the constitution.
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.