Gov. Laura Kelly said she was disappointed with the Kansas Legislature's failure to bring urgency to debate about public school funding.
The Kansas Supreme Court expects lawmakers to adopt a bill this session adding approximately $90 million annually to K-12 education to reflect years of inflationary costs. The justices previously declared unconstitutional the state's approach to financing schools, but accepted a $500 million, five-year expansion in state aid last year as a pivotal step to resolving the lengthy court case.
"It's frustrating that little progress has been made on the most critical issue of the session -- school funding," Kelly said during a news conference Friday at the Capitol. "As a former legislator, I have deep respect for the legislative process. But the deadlines are real. And, they are right around the corner."
The Kansas Senate is expected to resume discussion of an education funding bill Wednesday when legislators return to Topeka.
The Supreme Court set an April 15 deadline for filing legal briefs on the Legislature's solution to the inflation factor and set oral argument on the funding fix for early May.
In addition, Kelly said that during the 2011 legislative session, the first year of Gov. Sam Brownback's administration, the Legislature acted on 99 more bills by midpoint of the session than were dealt with by lawmakers so far in the 2019 session.
"I've met with leadership. I've met with lawmakers of both parties. And, my door continues to be open. I'm eager to find bipartisan consensus when lawmakers return for the second half of the session. I'm looking forward to seeing their plans so we can begin negotiations," Kelly said.
She was reacting to criticism Thursday by Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ron Ryckman, both Republicans, the governor hadn't proactively collaborated with GOP leadership on pending legislation. Republican legislators questioned Kelly's top priorities, including plans to refinance pension fund debt and to expand eligibility for Medicaid.
"I was elected to rebuild our state following years of mismanagement and failed policy," Kelly said. "Today, I choose to remain hopeful. I am ready to find middle ground."
The only bill to reach Kelly's desk so far in the session would earmark $115 million to make a payment to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System that was skipped in 2016.
Kelly, who took office in January, said her administration presented a balanced budget plan, prioritized funding for schools, outlined a strategy for expanding Medicaid and directed attention at child and family services. The budget is structured to stabilize the state's finances and pay down the "record amount of debt accumulated during the last eight years," she said.
She said the Kansas Department of Administration was developing rigid standards of ethics and accountability to improve the state's procurement process. She said Govs. Jeff Colyer and Brownback entered a series of no-bid contracts "that didn't go through the proper channels and may not be in the best interests of Kansans."
In terms of the school funding debate, the Schools for Fair Funding coalition of school districts that filed the lawsuit challenging constitutionality of state aid to education withdrew support of Senate Bill 44 that had been endorsed by Kelly.
Bill Brady, lobbyist with Schools for Fair Fair Funding, told a Senate committee a math error in drafting the bill would result in shortchanging districts in terms of inflationary funding by an estimated $270 million.