TOPEKA | Kansas lawmakers returned to work for a rare Sunday session at the capitol with the Legislature passing a budget that provides $40 million more for schools.
The $14.3 billion budget reflected a deal reached just before midnight Saturday after lawmakers spent hours haggling over state spending.
The final budget deal was awaiting Senate approval Saturday afternoon with lawmakers expected to adjourn early this evening.
The final school finance deal was $37 million less than what the Senate wanted for education and about $10 million less than what the House had proposed.
"It's about as good as we could do," said Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican and one of the authors of the original Senate plan.
The money adds about $60 to the base state aid per pupil. It does not include money to compensate property-poor school districts.
The plan does not give local school districts the ability to raise local taxes for general operations or for extra-curricular activities, two proposals that had some general support this year in the Legislature.
The bill would bring about $6.9 million more for Johnson County's six school districts. It would provide about $2.5 million for Wyandotte County's four school districts.
The Blue Valley district would get $1.7 million, Shawnee Mission would receive $2 million and Olathe would take in $2.1 million. The Kansas City, Kan. district would get $1.8 million.
Earlier today, House Republicans sharply criticized senators for abandoning a chance to give schools even more money.
They pointed to the Senate's refusal to go along with a plan to let some schools districts, especially those in Johnson County, to raise property taxes to go toward extra-curricular activities.
The target of the House Republicans was Vratil, the veteran senator from Johnson County.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal said the Senate always takes high road on protecting children and schools but it was the House that worked to get more money.
O'Neal said Vratil could have gone with the plan to let some district raise property taxes for extra-curricular activities but walked away.
“He would rather set us up for failure in the court than to do the right thing for Kansas,” O'Neal said.
Vratil, the lawyer for the Blue Valley School District, dismissed that notion.
"My constituents and the people of the state of Kansas know of my continued support of K-12 education," Vratil said. "Misstatements of fact by the House leadership will not change that."
While he supported the so-called local activiities budget, he couldn't get support from other senators because did didn't provide compensation for school district with less affluent property tax bases.
Just after the House approved the local-activities budget, Vratil told a reporter that he favored the concept but that the House packaged the plan with several education reforms that the Senate didn't like.
Those reforms including a plan to link teacher evaluations to student achievement and a couple bill that would direct the courts how to analyze challenges over school finance.
The court bills were intended to help the state defend itself in a court case over school finance that's expected to begin in a couple weeks.
Vratil opposed the court provisions because he thought they put the Legislature in a position of infringing on the third branch of government. House members thought the measures were a good way of potentially saving the state from a costly judgement over school finance, similar to one handed down seven years ago.
The debate over schools and tax cuts became intermingled during the session.
Late Saturday, Gov. Sam Brownback asked the Senate to agree to revisit a compromise tax plan (and several other things) in exchange for $77 million in education funding.
The Senate rejected that offer, which also asked senators to agree to a some redistricting plans that could potentially benefit conservative a Republicans.
The Senate has not been amenable to the compromise tax plan. Even though, financial forecasts show it largely leaves the state in the black, it assumes 4 percent growth and savings from Medicaid reform that can't be counted on, they said.
Now, the governor is poised to a sign a much costlier tax-cut bill that could leaves the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the red.
State Rep. Marc Rhoades, the lead budget negotiator from the House, said the Senate could have got more for schools if it had agreed to the compromise tax plan.
Vratil said the extra money would mean $1.8 million for the Blue Valley School District and $2.4 million for Shawnee Mission.
The plan does not give local school districts the ability to raise local taxes for general operations or for extra-curricular activities, two proposal that had some general support this year in the Legislature.
The plan adopted by the conference committee will be considered Sunday when the Legislature is scheduled to take up the state budget.
Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said there was good and bad to take from the conference committee's decision.
"In the end, the money is disappointing compared to where we thought we might be, The good news is the Legislature didn't add a lot of new unfunded mandates, a lot of new direction," Tallman said.