TOPEKA — A push to trim K-12 funding for the current school year could surface on the Senate floor, educators fear.
Members of the Senate budget committee, answering questions about a Kansas Association of School Boards brief last Friday that warned of the possibility, distanced themselves from any such move but signaled it could surface later this week.
“I think there certainly are some other senators, perhaps on the floor, that would like to see some cuts,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick. “And that’s their opportunity to present their case.”
McGinn, who chairs the budget committee, plans on working through the budget bill today and passing it to the floor for consideration Wednesday or Thursday. The House passed it last month.
She indicated committee members haven’t been pushing to write fiscal 2017 reductions to K-12 into the legislation.
“I was willing to do that six weeks ago, but it seems to me like we’re getting a little bit late in the year,” she said. “I’m not ruling that we won’t have any cuts, but at the same time I think that if we were going to do cuts, those needed to be done in February.”
The current fiscal year ends June 30.
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, predicted the fight over whether to slice into school budgets will play out on the Senate floor Thursday.
“I fully expect that that will be an amendment,” she said. “I am very concerned about that.”
The Kansas Association of School Boards brief to its members mentioned a possible 2-percent cut, but the group doesn’t have copies of any specific proposed amendments.
Asked about the possibility, Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, indicated there are many opinions among the Senate’s 40 members.
“There are some members,” he said, “that feel their constituents want them to attempt to cut before they raise taxes. And somebody may bring that amendment.”
If so, he said, “I won’t be voting for it.”
The Senate budget committee briefly took up the budget bill Monday morning, but didn’t broach K-12 spending.
The ever controversial topic is under renewed scrutiny after a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling concluded the state is underfunding schools and must rectify the situation. Yet lawmakers also are working to resolve a budget shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Rob Scheib, assistant superintendent for Emporia USD 253 — one of dozens of schools that sued Kansas over funding — argued further cuts would force his district to pay certain salaries out of its budget for building maintenance and equipment.
“That’s kind of a last resort,” said Scheib, who came to Topeka to watch Monday’s budget meeting for any implications to schools. “You collect those dollars to do repairs to buildings.”
Approximately 60 students from Dighton High School were on site Monday morning to tell lawmakers about their concerns for the state’s tax and budget planning, ranging from worries about school consolidation to the health of rural hospitals.
The importance of supporting rural schools was on the minds of Emily Sheppard, a 16-year-old sophomore, and 18-year-old senior Sara Cramer.
“School funding has always been a concern for small schools,” Sheppard said. “I just thought I would come and advocate for that.”
“If our school closes,” her classmate Cramer said, “then our town is going to disappear.”