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Plan Phases in $750 Million More for Kansas Schools over Next Five Years

Typical Kansas school bus; this one's from Valley Center. (Photo by J. Schafer)

A Kansas legislative committee worked eight hours Thursday night and didn't come up with a new school funding formula.

But we now know the goal for how much new money will be added to try and satisfy the state Supreme Court which has ruled school funding in Kansas is inadequate.

“Our target was a $150 million over a period of five years, to escalate up slowly to a more constitutionally appropriate number,” says Representative Melissa Rooker, a Republican from Fairway and a driving force to find more money for public education.

By adding $150 million more each year for the next five years, lawmakers will gradually increase public school funding by $750 million. Most believe that final figure will pass constitutional muster.

Representative Ed Trimmer, of Winfield, is the ranking Democrat on the K-12 Budget Committee.  He says that's the minimum the Legislature has to find. “Otherwise we’ll be back here doing this same thing again after the court tells us that’s not enough money.”

There is concern by some on the committee that a five year ramp up may not be quick enough to satisfy the court. Lawyers for the plaintiff school districts that sued the state have said they would accept some phase in of new money.

“So as long as the court stays engaged and there is a commitment that gets fulfilled, we can figure out how to make it work,” says David Smith, chief of staff in the Kansas City, Kansas school district, which is one of the plaintiff districts in the Gannon school funding case.

The chairman of the committee, Representative Larry Campbell, of Olathe, said he's aiming for the $150 million figure. But it appears some conservatives on the K-12 Budget Committee as well as some in the GOP House leadership may have a problem with that much more money.

Leadership delayed the hearing for two days in part to arm twist some Republican members into supporting putting only $75 million more into schools.

The hard ball apparently continued Thursday night as several amendments that added money into public education passed the committee on close votes. During an extended break, a number of people saw Republicans called into the office of House Speaker Ron Ryckman, of Olathe.  After the break, several moderate and Democratic amendments failed.

One of the swing votes on the committee was Representative Adam Smith, a freshman from Weskan, which is right next to the Colorado border. He voted for several amendments backed by moderates and Democrats on the panel.

He says he wasn't pressured by leadership. “Most of my interest lies with my district back home, and the people I talk to back home on the programs that are important to them that’s what I tried to support the most.”

The amendment that held up final action dealt with adding more state aid into student transportation. There wasn't an immediate figure for what that would cost. It's a pretty big item, so Campbell decided to wait until a dollar figure was available.

Campbell says the committee will finish its work Monday and then the bill will head to the Kansas House floor.

There are a couple of looming deadlines. First, the Legislature has its first adjournment next Friday. And if a new, constitutional funding formula isn't on the books by June 30, the high court has said it will shut down public schools.

Sam Zeff  covers education for KCUR Radio and the Kansas News Service.  Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.


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