TOPKEA – The Kansas House of Representatives approved a new school finance formula Monday night by a 67-55 vote, only after tax increases baked into the plan were removed.
The House passes a separate income tax increase later Monday night. The Senate, too, was poised to act on the school finance and possibly the tax bill.
Representatives supporting the formula included conservatives and moderates, Republicans and Democrats.
“It’s June 5 and it’s time to find this compromise acceptable,” said Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, a key figure in shaping the formula.
“I will see you all in July,” said Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, who expects the Kansas Supreme Court will find the formula flawed and unconstitutional.
“Jumbo combo” dies
The House voted twice Monday on the school finance formula. The first time the conference committee report for Senate Bill 19 came to the floor, it contained a tax hike affecting income, sales and property taxes. Rep. John Eplee, R-Atchison, called it the “jumbo combo.”
After a more than hour of debate, the House rejected it, 32-91. The failed legislation returned to a conference committee and the tax language was lifted.
Clay Center Republican Rep. Susie Swanson was among a number of legislators objecting to bundling the formula and the tax hike. “I don’t believe they should go together,” she said.
Trimmer thinks the formula is unconstitutional on the grounds it treats school districts – and students – unequally. The bill would peg future funding authority for a school district’s local option budget to the Consumer Price Index. However, some districts have an LOB currently at 33 percent, while others have a 30 percent LOB or lower. The financial disparity will grow wider and wider, Trimmer said, as the CPI inflation is applied yearly to the LOB.
Rep. Larry Campbell, R-Olathe, led the committee that wrote the House’s school finance formula, and he expressed confidence in Senate Bill 19. It will earmark $194 million in new aid to schools in 2017-18, and add another $100 million in new dollars the following year. Nine years of audits and studies are slated to track if the formula improves student outcomes. The formula will sunset in ten years.
Base state aid per pupil would rise under the proposed formula, but even in the fifth year, base aid would be less than the state’s peak of $4,400 per pupil in 2008-09.
The Supreme Court ruled against the state in a lawsuit brought by school districts complaining of inadequate and unequal funding. Tests showed about one-fourth of Kansas students were not at grade level in reading and math. The court gave the Legislature a deadline of June 30 to write a new funding plan.
The tax hike initially plugged into the school finance formula drew criticism for its price tag.
“This is not a…