June 12, 2024

Kansas governor’s school aid plan moves closer to passage

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators in Kansas are moving closer to passing Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to boost spending on public schools after some GOP lawmakers dropped their push for an alternative Wednesday night with a court deadline looming.

Kelly’s proposal to increase education funding by roughly $90 million a year is designed to satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court ruling last year that lawmakers aren’t spending enough on schools. The court gave the state’s attorneys until April 15 to file a written report on lawmakers’ response.

House and Senate negotiators agreed Wednesday night on the final version of a bill containing Kelly’s funding proposal and a few education policy changes, including a requirement for an online, one-page state performance report on each public school. The House plans to consider the bill first on Thursday, and if both chambers approve it, the measure goes to Kelly.

The GOP-controlled Senate approved Kelly’s plan last month with strong bipartisan support. Top Republicans in the GOP-controlled House wanted to tie the new money to education policy changes and earmark much of it to programs for at-risk students but couldn’t find enough support in their chamber.

The House has yet to pass a funding proposal but narrowly approved a policy bill last week. That action was enough for the House and Senate to begin talks Monday on both money and policy.

Senate negotiators would not back off supporting Kelly’s funding proposal because the full House had not voted on one. The talks grew contentious over three days, but House Republicans eventually caved in.

Their lead negotiator, Rep. Kristey Williams, a Wichita-area Republican, said senators were working “hand in hand” with the governor’s office, adding, “What else could we do?”

Senators dismissed the criticism, saying they were sticking with the funding approach most likely to satisfy the Supreme Court.

“It was a difficult task for the House, since they had never passed anything,” said lead Senate negotiator Molly Baumgardner, an eastern Kansas Republican.

Four school districts sued Kansas over education funding in 2010. The Supreme Court has issued six rulings since February 2014 requiring lawmakers to increase it, so that it’s now more than $4 billion a year.

A 2018 law promised to phase in a $548 million increase by the 2022-23 school year, but the Supreme Court said it wasn’t sufficient because lawmakers didn’t account for inflation.

Photo: John Hanna