Despite Criticism, Brownback Signs School Finance Bill

Gov. Sam Brownback signs controversial school funding bill on April 21, 2014 (WIBW)
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Despite mixed reactions to legislation passing a school funding bill two weeks ago, Governor Sam Brownback today gave it his stamp of approval. Calling the bill a win for students, parents, teachers, and property owners, he signed it into law Monday at 4 p.m. in a ceremony at the Statehouse.

"This is some of the most significant reforms we have seen in years," said Brownback. "There's a lot of local control in this bill. Nearly every school district will more money in classrooms and relief on property taxes."

The bill increases funding to Kansas schools by $73 million with $78 million in property tax relief. However, many educators are upset that it also ends the current teacher tenure process.

“This bill returns control to the local school districts and communities,” said Senate President Susan Wagle (R-30). “These reforms will benefit Kansas students. We have good schools in Kansas and this will make them even stronger.”

As Brownback approached the podium, Aaron Estabrook, founder of the Moderate Party of Kansas, and handed him a petition, which he said was signed by students, parents, and teachers all asking the Governor not to let the bill become law.

He called the bill, a "brazen attempt to strip Kansas public educators of this simple and basic right is detrimental to the foundation of public education both in recruitment and retention."

As the ceremony wound down, Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley released a statement arguing that the bill was no great accomplishment for Kansas.

"The reality is this bill barely passed both houses with no bipartisan support and strong opposition from our state’s education community. This was due to the bill’s radical changes in education policy," argued Hensley.

"Historically, significant school finance bills have passed with bipartisan support and large majority votes," he continued.

The bill was passed in response to a March 7th Supreme Court ruling in an education funding lawsuit. The court said lawmakers must equalize funding between poor and wealthy districts.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce (R-Nickerson) praised the legislation for "put(ting) money back into the pockets of property tax payers throughout our state," as well as ending state-mandated teacher tenure.

"For decades, this antiquated regulation has kept local school boards and administrators from making employment decisions that encourage positive student performance and higher outcomes," he said.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who is challenging Brownback's reelection campaign, criticized his decision to sign the bill saying, "This is just another example of Sam Brownback failing to make Kansas kids, parents and educators a priority. Kansans want a Governor who understands that strong schools are the very foundation of a strong economy."

The state GOP responded calling Davis disingenuous and willing to sacrifice teacher layoffs to appease union leadership.

"Teacher layoffs are more acceptable to him than crossing the KNEA---whose PAC is the financial power behind the Kansas Democrats," said state party chair Kelly Arnold.

Kansas Democratic Chair Joan Wagnon contended the new law reinforces their argument that "Gov. Brownback and his far-right Legislature have never made education a priority."

"That's why Brownback made the biggest cut to education in state history to fund tax breaks that hurt our schools. That's why it took 3.5 years and a constitutional order before Brownback even acknowledged the problems facing our schools. And that's why the bill the governor signed today is weighted down with unneeded special interest policies that harm our schools and may not even satisfy the Court's mandate," she said.

Gov. Sam Brownback signs controversial school funding bill on April 21, 2014 (WIBW)