TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has signed an education budget bill, which fully funds Kansas schools for this school year.
But her move also includes a line-item veto of a controversial section of the bill that would have altered school finance distribution to schools.
“Of most concern, though, are changes in appropriations caused by altering the school finance distribution to schools in Section 14. The current school finance formula was approved by the Kansas Supreme Court in the Gannon case. Changes to this formula run the risk of noncompliance and jeopardize our track record of constitutionally funding schools.
SB 113 specifically changes the method by which school districts must determine their enrollment and thus the amount of funding appropriated by the state. Under current law, school districts may use the enrollment of one of the two preceding years to determine the level of state aid they are subject to receive.
This essential element of our finance formula was crafted to ensure that districts with declining enrollment, especially rural districts, can properly account for this decline and make financial plans to ensure their own sustainability. SB 113 changes the formula so that districts must use the current year or the previous year’s enrollment when determining state aid.”-Gov. Laura Kelly, D-Kansas
The Kansas Legislature forwarded this controversial legislation in the final hours of this year’s session. It received pushback from public education advocates and some Democrats who blasted the bill for including “vouchers.”
The governor’s decision to sign the bill with a line-item veto of Section 14 prevents lawmakers from having to go into a special session, which was a concern for some. State Sen. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka, said she believes the special session could come with a wave of risks.
“The issue with a special session is you just never know who is going to show up, and then the other piece of that is…that doesn’t necessarily mean this bill is going to get any better… it could get worse,” Dietrich said Wednesday.
“We just don’t know…we never know. Special sessions are very different… the dynamic during a special session is not the same as a regular session.”
A special session occurs when the legislature is called to convene at a time outside the regular legislative session, usually to address a particular topic or emergency.
The state’s last special session in 2021 was called after Kelly issued a proclamation when she receivde a petition from at least two-thirds of the members of both the House and Senate.
However, the state’s constitution also gives the governor the power to call a special session. Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution of the State of Kansas provides, “The governor may, on extraordinary occasions, call the legislature into special session by proclamation.
The last special session called over school finance was in 2016.
Public education advocates, however, were hoping for the governor to veto the legislation and force lawmakers into a special session this year.
In an interview with FOX4’s Kansas Capitol Bureau earlier this month, Leah Fliter, assistant executive director for the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), said that this year’s proposal includes several provisions that could be devastating for public schools.
“The bill contains vouchers, and it sets schools up to lose quite a bit of money,” Fliter said.
One of the provisions the organization takes issue with is a section that expands eligibility for the state’s low-income students scholarship program.
The program is already open to public and private schools. However, the bill would update the definition and criteria for a “qualified school” by modifying an accreditation requirement to include a nonpublic school that is working in good faith toward accreditation.
“Our concern is these schools that are currently unaccredited, that might be accepting these vouchers, are not under any obligation to teach students to state standards — to have licensed teachers,” Fliter explained.
The bill would also change the income eligibility for the scholarship from 185% of the federal poverty level to 250% of the federal poverty level. It would also increase the tax credit for contributions to scholarship granting organizations from 70% to 75% of the amount contributed.
Public education advocates have also pushed back at the amount of money allocated to special education.
The current budget proposal allocates $528 million for special education in fiscal year 2024. Then, in fiscal year 2025, it would allocate $535.5 million for Special Education Services Aid. However, advocates said it’s not enough to meet the needs of Kansas schools.
Sue Bolley, president of the Topeka Public School Board, said some schools are taking a hit with current state funding levels, which she said only hover around 70% from last year’s allocation.
“They’re even suffering more than we are when we are when we have to take money away from our regular ed budget and support special education,” Bolley said. “We would really like to have a clean bill of education.”
Kelly called on the legislature to included an extra $72 million for special education this year, but it didn’t happen.
Republicans included the money in a separate proposal, which also included provisions to create the state’s first Education Savings Account. The bill failed to pass the Kansas Senate in early April with a vote of 17-20.
Republican lawmakers, however, have maintained that the current budget proposal fully funds schools. Earlier this month, a spokesman for Senate leadership told Kansas Capitol Bureau that they were anticipating that the Governor would sign the plan, “since it fully funds education according to Gannon.”
Kansas House Speaker Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, shared the same sentiments, at the time.
“The K-12 Education Budget fully funds education and satisfies the Gannon decision, including full constitutional funding for SPED. I am confident that the Governor will not put our schools in jeopardy by vetoing their funding,” Hawkins said in early May.
In a case called Gannon v. Kansas, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the state is required to meet adequacy and equity in financing public education. If the budget doesn’t meet constitutional requirements, it could be challenged.