Politics & Government

Spending increase for Kansas schools approved by Legislature

A sixth grade social studies class at Challenger Intermediate School in Goddard in April.
A sixth grade social studies class at Challenger Intermediate School in Goddard in April. File photo

Lawmakers sent a school funding bill that would provide millions more for Wichita schools to Gov. Sam Brownback late Monday.

The House voted 67-55 to approve Senate Bill 19, which would give schools overall about $195 million more in the next budget year and about $290 million more in the year after that. The Senate approved it hours later, 23-17.

The school finance formula comes in response to a Kansas Supreme Court order in March that gave lawmakers until June 30 to implement a new funding system. If Brownback approves the bill, the court will review it. The governor does not typically say whether he will sign or veto a bill in advance.

The formula is designed to better target funding for at-risk students than current law does. The Supreme Court cited underperformance by a quarter of Kansas students in their ruling.

The bill funds all-day kindergarten. It also would expand to individuals a program that provides a tax credit to corporations that donate to tuition scholarships for private school students.

The Wichita school district, the state’s largest, would receive about $17 million more in general state aid next year under the plan. Beyond Wichita, 230 other districts also would receive additional general state aid, and 55 would lose general state aid.

"We came out with a pretty darn good product," Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said.

Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, said the House and Senate compromised on the final bill. She said she trusts the court to judge the quality of the Legislature’s work.

"It’s time. We’ve worked hard. We brought it a long way," Rooker said.

But Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, said the bill was in clear violation of the court’s rulings on school funding equity.

The Legislature modified the school funding formula last year after the court found the system wasn’t equitable in how it treated wealthy and poorer districts.

"I will see you all in July," Trimmer said, alluding to a possible special session if the court rejects the school finance plan.

In 2015, the Legislature scrapped the school funding formula the state had been using since the early ’90s. Lawmakers replaced the system with a block grant law that proponents said was intended to be temporary.

Some senators warned the additional funding in the new finance formula would not be ruled constitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, noted the state's legal defeats on school finance and suggested that would continue with the school finance plan. Hensley filed a constitutional complaint against the bill, which allows him to outline his objections in the Senate journal.

"It advantages property wealthy districts to the disadvantage of property poor districts," he added.

The spending increase in the bill is far less than what lawmakers originally contemplated. An early plan considered by a House committee would have ramped up to a $750 million increase over five years.

Districts – including Wichita – had warned of possible problems if lawmakers did not meet the June 30 deadline. Wichita schools superintendent John Allison had said meeting payroll would be in question and payment to vendors may have been late.

Sen. Dinah Sykes, R-Lenexa, said she was a reluctant "yes" vote, adding school districts need to prepare for the next school year.

"Not knowing is more harmful and our school boards need to set their budgets," Sykes said.

The bill does not include any measures to pay for the school funding increase. But the House also passed a package of tax increases on Monday night that supporters said would pay for the increased spending.

An attempt to pair the school funding plan with tax increases failed in the House earlier in the day. The proposal would have raised personal income tax rates and dedicated all Kansas income tax revenue toward schools.

The vote on the mega-deal was 32-91.

How they voted

Here’s how south-central Kansas lawmakers voted on SB 19, a new school finance formula. It passed the House 67-55 and the Senate 23-17.


Republicans voting yes: Leo Delperdang, Roger Elliott, Greg Lakin, Brenda Landwehr, Les Osterman, Chuck Weber, Wichita; Steven Becker, Buhler; Doug Blex, Independence; Mary Martha Good, El Dorado; Kyle Hoffman, Coldwater; Anita Judd-Jenkins, Arkansas City; Don Schroeder, Hesston; Joe Seiwert, Pretty Prairie; Jack Thimesch, Cunningham

Republicans voting no: Daniel Hawkins, Susan Humphries, John Whitmer, Wichita; Jesse Burris, Mulvane; Blake Carpenter, Derby; Steve Huebert, Valley Center; Kristey Williams, Augusta

Democrats voting no: All area Democrats voted no

Not voting: Les Mason, R-McPherson


Republicans voting yes: Mike Petersen and Susan Wagle, Wichita; Ed Berger, Hutchinson; Bruce Givens, El Dorado; Dan Kerschen, Garden Plain; Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick; Richard Wilborn, McPherson

Republicans voting no: Gene Suellentrop, Wichita; Ty Masterson, Andover; Larry Alley, Winfield

Democrats voting no: Oletha Faust-Goudeau, Lynn Rogers, Wichita

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar