Lawmakers in the Kansas Senate passed a new school finance formula Wednesday morning, just hours after they gave it initial approval at the end of a marathon debate that lasted late into the night.
The bill passed on a 23-16 vote, but some lawmakers fear how Kansas Supreme Court justices will view the formula, which was crafted in an effort to please them.
The Kansas House has already passed a different version of the formula with slightly more funding. Key lawmakers from both chambers are expected to begin meeting soon to hash out the differences and negotiate a new proposal before voting again on the formula.
Some conservatives criticized the Senate proposal. Democrats argued the funding levels are far below where they should be.
Other Republicans said they thought lawmakers had done their work on the new plan and voted for the proposal.
Sen. John Skubal, an Overland Park Republican, said he would have liked for the formula to be “a little more robust” but said the Senate plan was a good start.
“There isn’t any sense in worrying about things you can’t control,” Skubal said about how the court will view the formula. “And they’re going to do whatever they need to do... I am not one to defy the courts.”
The formula still has a ways to go before making it to Gov. Sam Brownback, though it is unclear what he will do if and when the revised formula makes it to his desk.
A ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court in March demanded that lawmakers put a new school finance formula in place to address issues with the adequacy of education in the state.
Lawmakers were given until June 30 to make that happen.
The formula the Senate signed off on Wednesday morning funds all-day kindergarten, according to the Kansas State Department of Education, and also increases state aid for at-risk programs.
But Democrats in both chambers have warned that funding in the bill is inadequate and could lead lawmakers to hold a special session to mend the formula if the state’s high court takes issue with the plan.
Efforts by leading Democrats in the House and Senate to boost the funding level during floor debates have been unsuccessful.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said voting for the plan calls into question lawmakers’ adherence to the Kansas Constitution and the oath they took when they were sworn into office.
He said the education bill was “riddled with flaws.”
“If you vote for this bill, in my opinion, you have violated your oath,” Hensley said to his Democratic colleagues during a meeting Wednesday.
Only one Democrat in the Kansas Senate joined Republicans in voting for the bill.
Legislators have said the new formula resembles the old system the state had in place during the earlier years of Brownback’s time in office.
At Brownback’s urging, lawmakers threw out the old formula in 2015 and replaced it with a block grant system. The block grants have been criticized in court and are set to expire at the end of June.
“I personally like the block grants,” Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican, said after voting against the new formula.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said during a pause in the debate late Tuesday that under the plan 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.
The House formula, according to the Kansas Department of Education, boosts school aid by roughly $187 million in the next school year and then almost $98 million on top of that in the year that follows.
Legislators have overhauled the formula this year in hopes of helping the roughly one-fourth of public school students the court said the state had failed to provide the basic skills of both math and reading, as well as addressing other students the justices said are falling behind on the state’s watch.
“We feel like we’ve satisfied the adequacy and the equity portion,” Denning said about the formula earlier this week. “Should the Supreme Court disagree with that, we will come back for special session and sort it out.”
How they voted
Here’s how members of the Johnson and Wyandotte county delegations voted on the new school finance formula in the Senate.
Yes votes: Republicans Molly Baumgardner, Barbara Bollier, Jim Denning, Julia Lynn, John Skubal, Dinah Sykes
No votes: Republicans Steve Fitzgerald, Robert Olson, Mary Pilcher-Cook. Democrats David Haley, Pat Pettey