Kansas lawmakers pass school aid fix, advance other spending

J.G. Scott, left, the Kansas Legislature's chief fiscal analyst, and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, right, R-Overland Park, confer after the Senate's approval of budget legislation, Monday, April 30, 2018, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The legislators approved by senators would restore past spending cuts in the state's higher education system. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators approved a fix for a new education funding law Monday that would prevent public schools from losing $80 million in new funds they’ve been promised to meet a court mandate, and lawmakers also turned their attention to adding money to other parts of the state budget.

The Senate approved the follow-up school finance bill , 30-8, to make sure that the law enacted in early April phases in a $534 million increase in education funding as intended. The House had approved the measure Saturday, and it now goes to Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer, who promised to sign it.

The Senate’s debate on the bill allowed conservative Republicans to vent some frustration with the Kansas Supreme Court mandate prompting the new spending. The high court ruled in October that the state’s current education funding of more than $4 billion a year isn’t sufficient to provide a suitable education for every child as required by the Kansas Constitution.

Conservative Republican Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, of Leavenworth, predicted that voters will demand that the GOP-controlled Legislature put on the ballot a proposed amendment to the state constitution to limit the courts’ power.

“They want to know: When does the bleeding stop?” Fitzgerald said. “When are we going to have paid enough?”

The Senate’s vote on the school funding bill came after it approved budget legislation that would restore $18 million in past spending cuts for the state’s universities. The bill, passed 28-12 , adds $47 million in new spending overall; the state’s annual budget is more than $16 billion.

The House approved its own spending bill Saturday and negotiators for the two chambers began meeting Monday to draft the final version of budget legislation.

Top Republicans in the Senate wanted a smaller school funding plan, arguing that the amount ultimately approved can’t be sustained without a tax increase. Colyer and other supporters of the bill contend the state will cover the new spending with annual growth in the state’s tax revenues.

In Kansas, local school districts impose local property taxes to supplement their state dollars. In the new law, legislators included a provision setting a minimum for local tax revenues to be raised — all districts already surpass it anyway — and counting those dollars toward the state’s total aid. But instead of adding local dollars to state dollars, the technical language inadvertently created a calculation that replaced state dollars with local dollars.

Colyer and legislators have worried that if the court isn’t satisfied with the Legislature’s response to the court’s October ruling, the justices could rule that state dollars can’t be distributed through a flawed law — effectively shutting down schools.

“I appreciate the Legislature for working to quickly pass this important school finance bill,” Colyer said in a statement. “Getting funding to the classroom, requiring outcomes for schools, and doing so without a tax increase is a model to move education forward.”