The Kansas Legislature moved closer to increasing funding for education Tuesday when it approved a plan for adding $50 million to elementary and secondary education.
The House voted 99-17 to add the money to a $14 billion budget that it started debating midday Tuesday. The debate lasted beyond 10 p.m.
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The education money approved by the House sets the chamber up to negotiate with the Senate, which last week put $77 million into education for the fiscal year starting July 1.
The action taken by the House left some education advocates optimistic that the Legislature might increase education funding after cutting state base aid per pupil in recent years.
“This is the first time since 2009 that we’re actually talking about adding dollars,” said Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards.
The vote to add education funding was seen as key in the House, where leading lawmakers have been reluctant to put more money into education because they believe school districts are holding too much money in reserve.
“We have been pleased all along that the Senate has been willing to take this step. To this point, the House has not been willing to do so,” Tallman said “We think this is great news that the House has been willing to make a big step in the Senate’s direction.”
But there is a hitch to the House plan.
The House takes money from the highway department to fund the increase, a move that might not be popular with Gov. Sam Brownback, who has opposed using transportation dollars to fund other state services.
State Rep. Clay Aurand, chair of the House Education Committee, said taking money from the highway department wasn’t ideal. But he had to take money from someplace because House budget rules require increases in spending to be offset by cuts elsewhere.
“It’s the only place it looked like I could get the money,” Aurand said.
The House plan puts $25 million into state base aid per pupil and commits another $25 million into compensating school districts with less property wealth so they can keep up with property-rich districts. The Senate put $50 million into state base aid and added $27 million for so-called equalization funding for the poorer districts.
While the source of the education funding figures to be controversial, Aurand, a Belleville Republican, said he thought the two chambers were getting close to a consensus.
“I think our dollar amounts are getting closer together. I think that’s surely closer to compromise,” said Aurand. “We’re now on record wanting to spend $50 million on K-12K through 12. Where it comes from will get worked out.”
Sen. Jean Schodorf, a Wichita Republican and chair of the Senate Education Committee, said Tuesday night she was glad to see the House moving ahead, although taking the money from highways was a non-starter.
“At least the House is beginning to loosen up about funding schools again,” Schodorf said.
The vote to add education funding split the Johnson County legislative delegation, with the more conservative lawmakers voting against the plan.
Casting votes against the proposal were Reps. Greg Smith and Charlotte O’Hara of Overland Park, Owen Donohoe of Shawnee and Lance Kinzer of Olathe.
They joined nine Democrats who opposed the plan, including the House minority leader, who objected to using highway funding for schools.
Smith opposed the plan because he didn’t think it did enough for Johnson County schools. He favored Brownback’s plan to rewrite the education formula and lift the cap on raising local property taxes.
“Break it down and our kids don’t get hardly anything,” Smith said. “It’s not worth putting that much money in if I am not going to get anything back for my district. The whole formula needed to change and that didn’t happen this year.”
O’Hara said she thought the money would build spending increase into the budget for the future.
She also was concerned that by adding more money to compensate poorer school districts it would take more money out of Johnson County.