A $600 million increase for Kansas schools failed to pass the Senate on Tuesday, leaving lawmakers still without a plan to meet a state Supreme Court order to adequately fund education.
The debate over the proposal marked the first time this year lawmakers have voted on how much money Kansas schools should have as a whole.
The Kansas Supreme Court has given the Legislature until April 30 to say what it plans to do after the court ruled this fall that education funding is inadequate. The ruling came as part of a lawsuit over school funding known in a case known as Gannon.
The Legislature has only a few days to pass a school funding plan if lawmakers want to take their traditional April break beginning late next week. The longer lawmakers take to pass a school funding plan, the less time the state's attorneys and the attorney general’s office has to craft a defense of the law.
“We’ve got to come to grips with reality as it relates to the Gannon case … We must respond,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said.
A proposed $600 million increase for schools failed, as did a $450 million increase during Senate debate Tuesday. Both proposals would have been phased-in over three years.
“This notion that we’ve done nothing, that the system has failed us – it hasn’t failed us,” said Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican who chairs a special Senate committee on school finance.
“We’re not at next week, we’re not at the deadline to submit to the Supreme Court, and I believe we will come to a funding formula …that has accountability, that is not one year at a time.”
Conservative and more moderate Republican senators joined together to defeat the proposals, which were supported by Democrats. The proposals came as amendments to school finance legislation that deals with the distribution of funding between rich and poor districts.
Both amendments received only 10 votes in the 40-member Senate.
Republicans questioned whether Kansas could pay for the increase. They also raised concerns that Hensley was proposing more money without other policy changes, like focusing funding on at-risk students.
Hensley contended the state could absorb the additional spending under current revenue projections. He said his proposal was a good faith effort to show the court that lawmakers want to find a solution.
The amounts proposed by the Democrats fell well short of the $1.7 billion to $2 billion that a study commissioned by legislative leaders said may be needed. The amounts were in line with a lower funding increase also included in the study, however.
The study predicted a $450 million increase for schools over five years could lift Kansas’ high school graduation rate to 95 percent but would not otherwise improve academic performance.
The $600 million proposal also matched what attorneys for school districts suing the state for more funding have previously suggested may satisfy the court.
Lawmakers hope to break by April 5 or 6. Some are suggesting they shouldn’t leave until school funding work is completed.
In December, Attorney General Derek Schmidt encouraged the Legislature to pass school funding legislation by the beginning of March.