Kansas House Republicans unveiled a plan Thursday that would fully fund aid to the state’s poor school districts but tie the money to school “choice” initiatives that previously have foundered.
The plan is contained in a 91-page bill introduced Thursday by the GOP-dominated House Appropriations Committee, which is to have hearings on it next week.
The bill would boost aid to poor school districts by $129 million during the fiscal year beginning in July to comply with a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling in an education funding lawsuit.
But the measure links the money to multiple policy changes designed to help parents who want to send their children to private school — and to encourage the creation of new state-funded charter schools, which have more freedom than typical public schools.
Those provisions include tax credits for contributors to scholarship funds that could help children attend private schools, a new income tax deduction for contributions for charter schools and a less restrictive law for setting up new charter schools.
"If we’re going to spend that money, we’ve got to get some policy stuff. To me, that’s only logical," said Republican House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell in Johnson County.
Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said the proposal “looks like it’s some sort of retribution.”
“You have to do this, or we won’t give you money,” he said.
On Wednesday, Gov. Sam Brownback urged lawmakers to fully fund aid to the poor school districts and said complying with the Supreme Court mandate would require “significant” new spending.
The court ruled this month that past cuts in aid created unfair and unconstitutional gaps in funding between poor school districts and wealthier ones, and it gave the Legislature until July 1 to fix the problems.
“The equity issue raised by the court should be completely addressed this year,” the Republican governor said.
The governor did not mention a funding figure, but the state Department of Education has estimated that aid to poor districts would have to rise by $129 million to reverse past cuts to those districts.