Kansas lawmakers screwed up the school funding bill. Here’s how to fix it

The new school funding law in Kansas appears to have several major flaws. Those errors must be fixed after the bill is signed Tuesday.
The new school funding law in Kansas appears to have several major flaws. Those errors must be fixed after the bill is signed Tuesday.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer is expected to sign the school finance bill Tuesday — legislation that will add more than $500 million to district budgets over the next five years.

Lawmakers hope the measure will satisfy the state Supreme Court, which has said the current funding scheme is unconstitutionally inadequate.

Kansans should applaud the extra money. At the same time, there are serious, growing concerns that the bill contains significant errors.

Those problems must be addressed next week when lawmakers return to Topeka.

The mistakes involve local funding for schools. At the last minute, lawmakers inserted language in the funding bill requiring districts to impose a local tax equal to at least 15 percent of their state aid each year.

Supporters plan to count that 15 percent as state aid to education, hoping to impress the state Supreme Court.

But the last-minute addition contributed to an $80 million miscalculation, which legislators must correct.

There’s more. Some lawmakers from Johnson County now believe the Shawnee Mission School District and others in the county may lose additional money under the bill.

It isn’t yet clear how much funding will be lost, if any. Legislators should use the next week to determine the impact of the local funding switch, and other provisions, and rectify errors if necessary.

Even if the problems are addressed, though, using the local option budget for state school spending is problematic. It likely won’t fool the state Supreme Court — in fact, it could prompt the judges to throw out the entire funding bill.

That would be a disaster. And with that in mind, lawmakers should consider removing the language completely when they reconvene next week.

It won’t be easy. The bill passed with razor-thin majorities in both houses. Supporters of a significant “clean-up” bill will have to convince their colleagues that changes are necessary — and that the court will accept an amended measure.

Some have called on Colyer to veto the flawed bill. It’s a close call, but that’s a problematic approach.

A veto would erase the entire bill, giving lawmakers just a few days to meet an April 30 court-imposed deadline for a solution. There’s no guarantee lawmakers could pass a bill from scratch in less than a week.

Passing a bill that fixes the errors seems to be the only option.

How did we arrive at such a bad place? Haste and miscalculations are the culprits. Mistakes are inevitable when legislators rush to complete major legislation, as happened here.

Some lawmakers say they were initially unaware the local funding language was added to the measure. That’s deeply regrettable. It’s unacceptable for any legislature to push through controversial amendments on major bills without a full review from all interested parties.

The state’s schools must be constitutionally funded. Their representatives made important strides this month to reach that goal, but there is work to be done.

The best way to finish that work is to take a bad bill and make it better. That’s what all Kansans should want next week.