The Rush to Get Out from Under the Supreme Court - Legislative Update

This ninth week in the Kansas 2015 legislative session is marked by another decisive blow in the contentious battle to re-define Kansas. The very nature of our K12 public education system is awaiting final vote in the House chambers, today at 8 am.  If Thursday’s March 12 vote is any indication, 64 state representatives have voted in favor of taking a flying leap off the cliff.  The simple majority calls for 63 votes.

Red flags went up throughout the public education community by the sheer speed at which efforts to repeal our school finance formula were initiated.  This strategic move to get out from under the Supreme Court ruling proceeded as rushed and recklessly as the state’s 2011 policy to eliminate income tax. The bill was not posted until Thursday evening, March 5 and testimony was due by the following Monday by 8 am. Nonetheless, school districts and advocacy groups across the state lined up to oppose this move.  Rep. Hill spoke from the Well reminding his colleagues that “these are the same proponents who got us where we are in terms of our flawed tax policy”.  He and 58 other House members challenged the wisdom of rushing to make such a radical change in the state statute responsible for allocating $10 billion and HALF of our State General Fund. 

At the heart of this debate is whether or not to scrap the twenty-three year old school finance formula and to forge ahead for two years (maybe more) without a responsive means of allocating funds to our children’s schools – also known as the Block Grant bill (H Sub SB 7).  In short, the bill repeals the school finance formula and freezes funding for K12 public education through FY17, at the level of state funding allotted by the end of this school year. The bill makes no attempt to restore deep cuts triggered by the 2009 recession – as ordered by the Supreme Court, no adjustment for inflation, no additional dollars for increased enrollment, and no additional resources to meet the needs of children living in poverty, learning English or living far from school.  Ironically, our superintendents still have no idea what their total FY15 state payment will be as the actual budget has been changing throughout this school year, cut retroactively in February by the Governor’s executive order and the legislative rescission bill.

This House bill has been packaged for the Senate such that only a straight up or down vote will be required to repeal the school funding formula. Next stop, the Governor’s desk.  And not far behind are several game-changing companion bills:  moving local elections to the fall (and likely to partisan ballots), doubling down on the reduction of state revenues, and calling for a constitutional amendment to repeal the impartial, merit-based selection of Kansas Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges.

Read more about MainStream’s testimony in opposition to the block grant bill here.   

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