TOPEKA — Two northwest Kansas legislators are pleased with a compromise bill passed by both houses of the Legislature Friday night, concluding a special session in two days.
“I’m feeling very good,” said Rep. Sue Boldra, R-Hays, after the Senate voted 38-1 shortly after 8 p.m. Friday. About an hour before, the House had passed the bill, 116-7.
Gov. Sam Brownback told reporters at the Statehouse Friday night he would sign the bill.
“It turned out a little better for the schools,” said Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell.
A bill introduced in the House earlier Friday would have cut 0.5 percent from school districts’ operating budgets to fund $13 million of a $38 million boost to equity funding.
“This doesn’t take anything out of the classroom,” Boldra said of the compromise bill.
“The other one did, and I said that one would not pass muster with the court. We really have to add money, and we have done that.”
The compromise bill gets the $13 million from the sale of the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
That provision is a concern for Ostmeyer.
“I just don’t want to see too much of a fire sale and dump that property when we’ve already got $13 million in it,” he said.
The board of the KBA, an economic development agency aimed at biotechnology startups, voted to become a private institution in December. A bill passed in March allows for the sale by the state of its assets. The sale is expected to generate $25 million to $38 million.
If the sale is for less, the bill passed Friday allows up to $13 million to be taken from an “extraordinary needs” fund intended to help school districts that experience unexpected enrollment increases or property valuation decreases.
“I’m afraid we’re not going to get anything back into that special needs fund, and that concerns me,” Ostmeyer said, noting that some schools in his district have had need for it.
But he was otherwise pleased schools will be funded for the next fiscal year.
“I think the schools are basically protected,” he said.
While some schools, especially larger districts, will see a drop in their state funding, Boldra said that is not the case for most schools in western Kansas, including Ellis County.
“I think this is a great deal for Kansas right now and for Kansas schools. The assurance is there,” she said.
While he was pleased Kansas schools will not be shut down, Ostmeyer, who is not running for re-election, expressed frustration with how the state got there.
“I regret that we had to come back here for two days and argue about something that surely could have been done in regular session somehow,” he said.
“It is what it is, and we can’t look back.”
Boldra is already looking to the next legislative session.
“We’ll have to work on the adequacy part next year,” she said. “We have a lot to do when we get back in January and I hope I am part of it.”