This coming week may be a busy one for school advocates as the Kansas Senate may consider a two percent cut to public schools in the current year.
Senate Ways and Means is scheduled on Monday to start working on a House-approved rescission bill, which contains no cuts to schools. That bill may be on the Senate floor by Wednesday, and amendments could be offered to this bill to cut K-12 spending.
This week, the Kansas Legislature returned from its mid-session break to find a major chore underlined on its to-do list as the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the block grant system is unconstitutional and inadequate.
House K-12 Education Budget will discuss school funding proposals and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, appointed a select Senate committee to tackle the issue. The committee will be chaired by Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park.
The legislature still hasn’t approved budget bills or tax bills. The state faces an estimated $1 billion revenue shortfall through June 2018. And the court decision on school finance could require upwards of $800 million more per year.
The dynamics of the 2017 legislative session received a jolt after unconfirmed reports said that Gov. Sam Brownback was being considered by President Donald Trump as U.S. representative to three United Nations food and agricultural organizations in Italy.
Some said a Brownback departure could make legislative work easier since the governor has stood as a roadblock to rolling back his signature state income tax cuts.
Two more items of note: K-12 Budget Committee Chairman Larry Campbell, R-Olathe, said he will not advance legislation on school district procurement and health insurance and a hearing will likely occur this coming week on a bill expanding tax credits to send students to private schools.
Campbell directed a task force comprised of the Kansas Department of Administration, KASB and other stakeholders to explore issues of cooperation and efficiencies in purchasing and health insurance and report back to the Legislature in January.
HB 2142 would have required public school district employees to participate in a statewide high-deductible health plan. In Brownback’s state budget proposal, he estimated the savings from a consolidated health plan at $40 million in fiscal year 2018 and $80 million in 2019.
HB 2143 would have directed school districts to purchase IT equipment, services and software as well as food and fuel through the Kansas Department of Administration. Brownback projected $7 million in budget savings in FY 2018 and $9 million in 2019 if the bill was enacted this year.
While those proposals may stay pending for a year, the projected savings baked into Brownback’s budget of $136 million will somehow have to be resolved.
On the issue of tax credits, HB 2374 would expand participation in a current program that allows the granting of tax credits to those who contribute to a scholarship fund that is then used to pay the tuition of students to go to private schools, or even home schools.
A hearing on this bill before the K-12 committee is expected this coming week or later.
USA-Kansas and KASB opposes the measure, having found Kansas student outcomes, on nearly every indicator, outperform states that have tax credit programs similar to Kansas’. KASB's analysis also shows participating private schools are not required to report any data on student performance; the proposal fails to focus on students who are unsuccessful in public schools and there are no provisions to require that participating private schools accept students on the same basis as public schools.