OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Fist pumps in the air punctuated the end of a Wednesday committee meeting centered on public education at the Kansas statehouse.
But critics of this aspect of the budget said there’s no reason to celebrate.
An overhead view of the conflict shows there’s not a lot of common ground.
Republicans weighing in on this issue argued that public education is fully funded, but Democrats said that’s simply not true, saying the result of this decision is less money going toward special education to the tune of millions of dollars.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposed $30 million special education stop-gap was dead on arrival at the Conference Committee on Senate Education and House K-12 Education Budget.
Instead, lawmakers advanced $6.6 million in funding for virtual learning, $5 million for school security and resource officers, and made an investment in an online math tutoring program that all Kansas students will be able to access.
“So when we ask what are we doing for kids that are at risk? What are we doing for kids with special needs? We’ve targeted it right here with all of this funding,” Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, said.
But special education funding going directly to districts, again, was a non-starter. Republican lawmakers said public school enrollment is down statewide, and they don’t trust school districts to be responsible stewards of taxpayer money.
“And we have heard time and time again the overwhelming additional needs of this state and to allocate more money voluntarily for education goes against my intellect,” Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, said.
But Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, said local school districts are now caught in the middle — forced to use their general funds to cover what would otherwise be money expected from the state for special education.
“So it’s disturbing. I honestly will tell you this morning it took me awhile to compose my thoughts after what I saw yesterday,” Holscher said.
“The fact that we saw legislators celebrate not putting money toward special education. I can tell you, she wasn’t the only person who was celebrating. We have a number of legislators who are diligently working to destroy our public education,” Holscher said.
At a recent meeting of the Shawnee Mission School District, board members received information about the anticipated impact. The shortfall for special education money could be between $4-8 million, depending on how state money is eventually dispersed.