The school finance bill cobbled together during overtime in the Legislature last weekend was a two-faced bill that looked awfully anti-public schools for what ostensibly was a pro-school measure.
Though it contained the fixes required by a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that last month identified constitutional inequities in the school finance formula, this was in other ways a bad bill. Really, the Legislature shouldn’t work legislation into the wee hours and for seven days straight. Nothing good ever seems to come of it.
Moreover, for a Legislature that groans about spending money, these folks found a way to give money away to their special interests. They scraped up the $129 million to satisfy the court’s ruling, though $8 million of that came from cutting aid for at-risk students.
But as excruciating as it seemed for a thrifty Legislature — to put it mildly — to come up with the money to satisfy the court, seemingly stretching the limits of the state’s financial resources, one wouldn’t think the Legislature would add more expense to the bill. Yet that’s what it did by throwing in a tax credit for corporations who give money to private schools.
That, along with a couple other public education-unfriendly measures, was a bone thrown to conservative members of the Senate when negotiators hammered out the compromise legislation.
The measure provides corporations with a 70-percent tax credit on scholarships for private schooling. It achieved a long-desired toe in the water for proponents of school choice initiatives such as vouchers.
No one seems even to know how much the tax credit will cost. But what does that matter to its proponents? Money is not so much an issue when it’s your special interest.
Clearly, Kansas lawmakers did public education no great favors in this piece of legislation, not to mention the stability of the state treasury.
John D. Montgomery is publisher of The Hutchinson News and former publisher of The Hays Daily News.