The Kansas House on Friday signed off on a new plan to solve a wealth disparity between rich and poor schools only hours after Republican Gov. Sam Brownback urged lawmakers to pass the bill.
The bill injects $129 million more into education in response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The court said in March that an unconstitutional funding gap existed between property-rich and property-poor school districts.
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The bill, now headed to a House-Senate conference committee, took a more tempered approach to fixing the equity problems compared to a Senate plan that passed just before 2 in the morning Friday.
The Senate plan contained many policies embraced by conservatives, including a measure that blocked funding for implementing the Common Core academic standards. It also provided less money.
The House voted 91-31 to pass the Republican-authored plan with bipartisan backing. Supporters included House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who is running for governor against Brownback this year.
Many conservative Republicans opposed the plan, saying it spent too much money or didn’t do enough to give parents more choice about where to send their kids to school. Others thought the courts were taking too large a role in dictating how the state spends educational dollars.
“I still have some concerns about the appropriateness of the court’s role in this process,” said state Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican. “I still think they’re inserting themselves into what is fundamentally a policy choice that should be left to elected officials,” said state Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican.
Kinzer doubted the bill would have passed without the Supreme Court ruling.
“I am certainly willing to vote in certain contexts for different policy and even more money for education, but I am not willing to do that based on the dictates of the court,” Kinzer said.
The House plan spends $129 million to fix the wealth-disparity gap. But in what may be just as important politically, it also allows school districts to expand their taxing authority in a couple of ways.
The bill raises the cap on the amount of money that school districts can raise locally. They are currently limited to raising no more than 31 percent of what they receive in state aid, but the House would raise the lid to 33 percent.
School boards could independently raise that cap for the 2014-15 school year but would need to hold a mail ballot election before 2015-16.
Johnson County school administrators have long sought more local control for raising taxes for their programs. They have stressed to lawmakers that raising the cap was their top priority in the education bill.
The House plan also tweaks the funding formula in a way that lets schools raise more money under their current caps. That change alone could mean $58 million for schools statewide, including almost $4 million for Johnson County schools.
The House bill also:
• Relaxes teacher licensure requirements for career professionals to teach certain classes in public schools.
• Expands the number of school districts that can operate free of many state rules and regulations, to 20 percent of the state’s 286 school districts.
Just before Friday’s debate in the House, Brownback met with the Republican caucus. He urged Republicans to settle the issue this weekend.
“I think it’s a good bill,” Brownback said of the House plan passed Friday. “I think you should support it.”
While Brownback’s Democratic rival doesn’t agree with every aspect of the bill, he said it’s very similar to his own plan to use $129 million from state reserves to solve the issue.
The House plan was very different from the bill that passed in the Senate, which tied funding to policy issues.
Besides the Common Core language, the Senate bill also contained provisions aimed at encouraging school choice, including tax deductions for contributions to scholarship funds that would allow less affluent and special-needs students to attend private schools.
The bill also would provide property tax relief for parents who send their children to private schools.
It was unclear how much of the Senate plan would remain intact.
The House plan relies on about $44 million from the state’s reserve fund and about $11 million in cuts to other areas of education for at-risk students and low-performing students. It also uses about $16 million that Brownback wanted for all-day kindergarten.
After facing a storm of protests earlier in the week, the House put back money it wanted to cut for transporting students and most of the cuts it proposed to virtual schools.