TOPEKA — The Kansas House committee developing a new school finance formula could move today to reduce a proposed $150 million annual increase in state aid to public schools because of inaction by lawmakers on a broad tax increase.
The bill offers a funding model that would provide $150 million next year, increasing to $750 million by the fifth year. That escalating financial benchmark has been under consideration for months, but committee chairman Rep. Larry Campbell, R-Olathe, said Thursday the committee would debate new funding options if the current plan couldn’t muster enough votes.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed a tax-hike bill in February, and the Legislature hasn’t been able to agree on an alternative raising nearly $1 billion annually to close a deficit and finance school spending to comply with orders of the Kansas Supreme Court.
“So far, we have not been able to raise the revenues for it,” Campbell said. “That’s our job, to stay within our means, to raise as much as we can and adequately fund schools.”
Rep. Clay Aurand, a Belleville Republican who serves on the K-12 Budget Committee, said he expected a discussion on revising the amount of increase that would be devoted to schools each year. He referred to any five-year funding plan for schools without a dedicated revenue source as “aspirational” and suggested the committee ought to weigh support for a bill lowering future obligations by the state.
“Maybe it’s better not to put hopes so high and focus on something more grounded,” he said.
Mark Tallman, a lobbyist with the Kansas Association of School Boards, said one major hangup has been the compounding nature of the proposed increase in K-12 spending. Tallman said some lawmakers were interested in downsizing the appropriation.
“I’m hopeful not, but I would not be shocked,” he said.
Rep. Henry Helgerson, D-Eastborough, said he was “flabbergasted” that some peers on the K-12 panel were serious about reopening discussion of funding when the committee had spent weeks talking about amendments based on a five-year plan with built-in increases of $150 million annually. He said some Republican legislators had spoken about a $200 million increase spread over two years.
Helgerson said advice from the Legislature’s legal counsel, former Sen. Jeff King, indicated $750 million would be needed to satisfy the Supreme Court, which ruled state funding of public education violated the Kansas Constitution.
“We’ve been here for three months,” he said. “For Republicans to suddenly take the position we can’t raise taxes to fund public education goes against everything we’ve been talking about.”
Mark Desetti, a representative of the Kansas National Education Association, said consensus among House and Senate members on school funding would continue to be elusive. He said Brownback was unlikely to be satisfied with the initial school funding bill to be approved by the Legislature and that attempts to override a veto would be necessary.
“I think everything is going to take two votes: A vote to pass it and a vote to override,” he said.