Kansas House approves school funding bill, final approval expected Friday

Sam Brownback
Sam Brownback at Kansas State House (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

TOPEKA, Kansas – The Kansas House is giving “block grants” to fund Kansas schools a go. The bill got first-round approval. Some say it will be devastating, causing cuts to K-12 education.

Debate got heated on the floor for debate.

“That is an incredible red flag to anyone who has children in Kansas schools who believes in Kansas schools,” says Democrat Jim Ward of Wichita. “There is no way that you could do a thoughtful analysis of school finance, come up with a way to balance the diverse needs of schools in this state and put together a coalition to meaningfully fund public schools in two weeks.”

And it was the fast-track nature of the bill that concerned both Republicans and Democrats.

The move to advance the bill passed 64-58. It needed at least 63 votes. Those pushing hard for the “block grant” to replace the current system of school funding say it’s a big win.

“This bill’s about local control,” says Republican Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe. This bill’s about taking the red tape that we’ve put on the funds we give our school districts, and give them the flexibility to spend it where they want to.”

Others say that’s not exactly the case.

“We talk about local control,” says Democrat Ed Trimmer of Winfield. “And this really only gives local governments the choice of where to cut programs.”

Trimmer pointed to school analysis that shows they will cut budgets next year.

The plan incorporates Brownback’s proposal to give districts “block grants” based on their current aid for the next two school years, until lawmakers draft a new formula. He and other Republicans say the current formula is too complex and directs too much away from classroom learning.

Schools argue it’s about the budget and the 2012 tax cuts that lawmakers on both sides acknowledge has caused a $600 Million revenue shortfall.

Senator Michael O’Donnell of Wichita says it’s a done deal in the Senate, where it most likely will go up for a simple yes or no vote with no debate and little or no discussion.

“That’s correct, it will be a simple yes/no,” says O’Donnell. “he block grant bill is a two-year bill. Once that gets passed we’ll know we have a minimum threshold to meet in regards to state budget. And, there will be talk about doing away with 2012 tax cuts. There’s absolutely going to be talk about removing the 2012 tax cuts. I don’t think it’s going to gain any traction.”

O’Donnell says the block of money for schools will give lawmakers a baseline to work from in regards to funding. From there, he says, a next step will be to re-write the tax code.

“We have to find more revenue,” says O’Donnell. “To fund, not only schools, but to pay for things like our pension system.”

Republican Rep. Amanda Grosserode from Lenexa says it is possible some votes could change before the chamber takes final action on “block grant” bill Friday. The bill will need 63 votes to pass Friday.

“I don’t know about that,” says Ward. “The measure got 64 votes. There were two not present who did not vote today and they are both yes votes. So the (final action) tally to move it to the Senate will likely be 66 votes. If we want to change votes between now and 8:30 in the morning, we have our work cut out for us.”

Final action is expected at 8:30 a.m. Friday, and then the Senate gets the bill.

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