Gov.-elect Laura Kelly and the revamped Kansas Legislature are preparing for another colorful rendition of school house rock.
When the session begins next Monday, a Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled House and Senate will answer the Kansas Supreme Court’s call for an inflation adjustment to state aid to K-12 schools. It could cost the state a whopping $90 million in each of the next four years. In 2023 and beyond, spending increases would be pegged to a consumer price index.
This infusion of cash would be in addition to the $500 million, five-year increase passed in 2018 and endorsed by the Supreme Court.
“Parents, teachers and business owners get it,” Kelly said. “They know that great schools are the key to a bright future and growing economy. I will make our schools a top priority again. We will expand pre-K programs, fully fund our K-12 schools and add a cost of living index to keep us out of court.”
The House stood for election in 2018, but Republicans remains in charge. There is obvious division between GOP moderates and conservatives. That dynamic is similar in the Senate.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said decades of school litigation and costly court rulings on education may eventually bankrupt the state. In addition to chewing up cash reserves, the result could be property, sales or income tax hikes.
“When Kansas is on par with Nancy Pelosi’s California for sky-high property taxes and families are fleeing the state, we can thank the Kansas Supreme Court,” she said.
Expect debate on amending the Kansas Constitution to make education spending the exclusive realm of the Legislature. In short, no more Supreme Court second guessing. If the GOP secured two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate for an amendment, it’s not clear voters would back the change.
“A constitutional amendment is just a scheme to avoid the real issue,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “That is, we have to put in an inflation factor.”
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said legislators should focus new investment on early-childhood education and the mental health needs of school children.
“We can make the case that money into mental health would alleviate a lot of issues across the state,” Ryckman said.
The school-finance ruckus will be influenced by lobbying organizations, including the Kansas Chamber and Game On for Kansas Schools. While Game On plans to promote expansion of state aid, the Kansas Chamber questions merit of piling on the cash and favors the constitutional amendment.
“We’d like them to do the inflation factor. That looks affordable,” said Judith Deedy, executive director of Game On for Kansas Schools.
Alan Cobb, president of the Kansas Chamber, said time had come to restrain the judicial branch’s politically tainted rulings on education.
“The separation of powers is clear,” Cobb said. “The Legislature has the power of the purse. CPI or inflation is nowhere in the Kansas Constitution.”