Legislators in the Kansas Senate agreed on a new school finance formula Tuesday amid calls by Democrats that the funding in the bill will trouble the Kansas Supreme Court and trigger a special session where changes to the system would have to be made.
The Senate gave initial approval to the new school finance formula in the latest step forward in the contentious debate in Kansas over how much money to spend on public schools across the state.
The Kansas Supreme Court said in March that Kansas had failed to ensure adequate funding for public schools. Lawmakers have been working to find a path forward ever since.
“We feel like we’ve satisfied the adequacy and the equity portion,” Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said about the formula before the debate. “Should the Supreme Court disagree with that, we will come back for special session and sort it out.”
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Under the plan, Denning said public schools in Kansas would see a boost of roughly $165 million next school year and then an additional increase of around $73 million the following year. Increases in the years after are tied to inflation, similar to the House version.
“My prediction is that we will end up being back here in July if we pass a plan that is this inadequate,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said during the debate.
“We have no idea until they tell us,” Denning said of how the state’s high court will view the formula.
Hensley made an attempt to increase funding for schools by roughly $220 million in the first school year and around $200 million on top of that in the year that follows.
“I think that both the House and the Senate bills are inadequate,” Hensley said.
The effort to put that increase in the bill fell on a 16-23 vote.
In its March ruling, the state’s Supreme Court said Kansas had failed to provide roughly one-fourth of public school students both basic math and reading skills
The Legislature was given until June 30 to pass a new school finance law that remedies the court’s issues with education funding in the state.
Under the proposal the Senate agreed to, all-day kindergarten will be funded, according to the Kansas Department of Education, and more funding would go to at-risk programs.
A final action vote on the bill could come Wednesday.
Senate Republicans played a large role in crafting the plan, though some of the more conservative members of the party were critical of the proposal.
“We’re about to put the grand deception back in place,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican.
The formula is similar to a version the House passed last week, though there are differences between the two versions.
Leading lawmakers in the House and Senate who focus on education are expected to meet and negotiate the details of the plan after it passes the final action vote in the Senate.
The revised formula will then have to be voted on again in both chambers.
The Senate version also includes less funding than the House bill, which Democrats labeled as “woefully inadequate” when it left the chamber last week.