School Finance Is At Hand
Last Wednesday, the House K-12 Education Budget Committee passed-out a school finance bill. Basically, this is the moment everyone has been waiting for. The bill increases funding for K-12 schools by approximately $520 million over five years. School districts would see an additional $73 million next fiscal year and roughly $105 million each of the following four years. This would be on top of the nearly $200 million in increased school spending legislators approved last year. The plan includes significant increases for special education and other areas over which the Kansas Supreme Court had expressed concern in its ruling last year. House leaders are hopeful the plan can be paid for without a tax increase, drawing upon expected revenues from an Internet sales tax and higher state revenues resulting from federal tax cuts. However, the Senate is working on a bill specifically designed to return those tax breaks to taxpayers. The full House will debate the bill this week.
Meanwhile, the Senate passed two bills addressing the fairness with which Kansas schools are funded. Recall, the Supreme Court objected to the amount of funding lawmakers had appropriated to schools as well as the way the money was distributed. These measures focus on Local Option Budgets, school transportation funding and other smaller “equity” objections raised by the Court.
As legislators on both ends of the Statehouse were grappling with the Supreme Court’s school finance ruling, a House Committee introduced an amendment to the state constitution which would prevent this kind of lawsuit from happening again. The amendment would declare that, “The determination of the total amount of funding that constitutes suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power and shall be made as provided by law.” This would eliminate the Court’s authority to judge how much money the state should spend on public education. The resolution would need to pass the House and the Senate by a 2/3 vote and then go before the voters, either in November or in the August primary.
Senate Passes Budget Bill
The Senate has passed its budget bill which addresses state spending for the rest of this year and next fiscal year. The bill does not contain any funding increases for K-12 school finance because that is being handled separately. With this part of the budget taken care of, the Senate will be able to focus its attention on K-12 school funding.
Two Task Forces Move Forward
The House has passed a bill establishing the Joint Legislative Transportation Vision Task Force to evaluate the state’s current highway system and develop a new 10-year transportation program for the future. The task force, which would be comprised of 27 members, including legislators and representatives of various interested groups across the state, would be required to submit a report to the legislature by January 1, 2019.
The Senate unanimously passed a bill creating a statewide broadband planning task force. This group would file a status update report with the legislature early next year and then deliver its final report in January of 2020.
Last Week of the Legislative Session
The Kansas Legislature will end its 2018 regular session this Friday, April 6. Legislators will come back for the veto session on April 26. However, since they face a court deadline of April 30 to pass their school funding bill, they may be called back to Topeka sooner.