The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved an education finance compromise Friday night that uses cash from the sale of Kansas Bioscience Authority assets to help pay for additional school equity spending — drawing support from GOP leaders, moderate Republicans and Democrats.
The House passed the bill 116-6. The Senate approved it 38-1 a short time later. The bill now goes to Gov. Sam Brownback, who said in an interview outside the Senate chamber he would sign the measure. The voting led to closure of the Legislature’s special session after two days.
The legislation funnels $13 million from the sale of the KBA to help funnel about $38 million in new equity dollars to school districts, which will go to property tax relief. The new plan replaces an old bill that would have cut school district operating budgets by .05 percent.
Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said the adjustment to the bill was accepted in exchange for acknowledgment from plaintiffs’ attorneys in the pending school funding lawsuit against the state that the bill met constitutional muster.
“What was gained was a signed letter by the plaintiffs that they would stipulate that everything would be met on equity,” Masterson said.
House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe, said the bill would ensure schools remain open.
“It provides assurance to our teachers, our kids and property relief to many of our districts,” Ryckman said.
The decision to remove a school funding cut from the legislation drew praise after Ryckman unveiled it. Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, who was critical of cutting schools, supported the bill.
“I can live with this. I can. The main thing is that we protected classrooms, which was the key,” Rooker said. “The sources of funding are never easy, whichever direction we’re going at this point, but I do like the fact that we have found a compromise.”
The change in course for lawmakers came after some Republicans began actively promoting an alternative finance plan to the one put forward by GOP leadership. The Legislature ground to a halt for much of the day as legislators met in huddles and behind closed doors in negotiations.
“What we’ve done today was put the children of Kansas first,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “This is a responsible plan. It’s a bipartisan bill and it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”
The Legislature began its special session Thursday to address a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found school funding is inequitable. The court set a June 30 deadline for the Legislature to enact a constitutional funding system. Most lawmakers believe a $38 million boost in equity spending will satisfy the court.
The equity ruling came as part of an ongoing lawsuit by a number of school districts over state education spending. The plaintiffs’ attorney said in a statement that they support the legislation and believe it is constitutional.
“While plaintiffs view this as a victory, we are also mindful that this is just one aspect of the overall case. One down, one to go,” attorney Alan Rupe said. “Plaintiffs hope that the court, the state and the Legislature will now put similar effort to ensuring that Kansas schools are adequately funded.”
One of the few dissenting voices, retiring Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, argued the bill is a capitulation to the court.
“By this vote today, this body has agreed with the Supreme Court that we are a secondary branch of government, subservient to the Kansas Supreme Court,” Rubin said.
The plan is contingent upon the state raising more funds from the sale of the KBA than initially anticipated. Kansas previously budgeted based on expectations the sale would raise $25 million — the new proposal bumps that estimate up to $38 million on the high end.
Under the plan, proceeds from the sale in excess of $25 million will go toward equity funding. If the sale generates less than $38 million, the bill authorizes the diversion of up to $8 million from the extraordinary needs fund to help pay for equity.
The extraordinary needs fund, which holds about $15 million, can be given to school districts that face large increases in student population or sharp decreases in property values. Even with help from the fund, if the sale collects much less than expected, the state may still come up $5 million short on revenue to pay for the legislation.
That prompted the House Appropriations Committee to approve an amendment that will move $5 million from a motor vehicle fee fund into the extraordinary needs fund to ensure the equity bill will be funded.
In committee, Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Atchison, sounded a skeptical note over how much the sale will take in for the state.
“What information has come forward that would give this committee some type of information or ease that there’s an additional $13 million from bioscience we can use for schools?” Henry said.
Ryckman suggested the Legislature’s previous assumption — that the sale would collect $25 million — may have been premature. Brownback told reporters, however, the sale likely wouldn’t generate the amounts expected under the bill.
“I wouldn’t be particularly confident of that at all, but there’s another piece if it doesn’t click in,” Brownback said. “That’s not the sort of estimates I’ve been seeing as far as the price tag of KBA, but who knows? I would not be confident it’s going to come in higher than 25 (million).”
Democratic lawmakers also had been fighting for their own proposal. The Democrats’ plan would have avoided a cut to districts, but would have drawn upon the jobs creation fund, unlike the latest version of the alternative Republican proposal.
Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City, said she was pleased with the bill.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with it,” she said. “I’m thrilled the two parties came together and everyone’s working together in great collaboration for this.”