TOPEKA, Kan. — The future of funding for Kansas schools is in Gov. Laura Kelly’s hands. The Legislature forwarded an education budget bill last week.
Once it makes it to the governor’s desk, she’ll have 10 days to decide whether to veto or sign the bill. This comes as public education advocates are actively working to urge the governor to reject the education budget plan.
Leah Fliter, assistant executive director for the Kansas Association of School Boards, told FOX4’s Kansas Capitol Bureau this year’s proposal includes several provisions that could be devastating for public schools.
“We’re urging a veto, because the bill contains vouchers and it sets schools up to lose quite a bit of money,” Fliter said in an interview Wednesday.
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 percent of the federal poverty level to 250 percent of the federal poverty level. It would also increase the tax credit for contributions to scholarship granting organizations from 70 percent to 75 percent 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 say it’s not enough to meet the needs of Kansas schools.
“If I’m a school district and I say, ‘oh, sorry but we didn’t get enough special education funding.’ So, sorry kid, you don’t get your reading assistance or you don’t get that extra help you need in Math,” Fliter said.
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.”
Gov. 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.
If Gov. Kelly vetoes the budget proposal, lawmakers will have to return to the statehouse for a special session.
Kansas Capitol Bureau reached out to Republican leadership on Wednesday. A spokesman for Senate leadership said they’re anticipating that the Governor will sign the plan, “since it fully funds education according to Gannon.”
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.
Speaker of the Kansas House, Representative Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, believes the budget proposal for this year is fully funded.
“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 a statement Wednesday.