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Brownback Signs School Funding Bill Meant To Fix Equity Problem

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Michael B.
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flickr Creative Commons

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a school aid bill Wednesday that Kansas lawmakers hope will satisfy the state Supreme Court's ruling to fix equity issues in education financing.

Senate Substitute for House Bill 2655, referred to as the education equity funding bill, reinstates the capital outlay equalization formula that the Court had previously approved. The state adopted a block grant formula in early 2015. 

The bill gives the state Board of Education the authority to review school district applications for funds from the roughly $15 million Extraordinary Need Fund. Under current law, those decisions are the responsibility of the State Finance Council.

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Credit kslegislature.org
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The funding bill contains a "hold harmless" provision, which Brownback says will ensure that none of the state's school districts will see a reduction in current funding. Twenty-three districts, including Derby Public Schools and Mulvane School District in Sedgwick County, will see an increase in state aid; the bill shifts $2 million from the Extraordinary Needs Fund to cover the increases.

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A list of school districts whose state aid will increase under a new funding bill.

In a statement, Brownback lauded Kansas lawmakers' work, calling the bill the "result of a delicate legislative compromise":

“The legislature has acted to keep Kansas schools open and I agree with its choice. I have signed Senate Substitute for House Bill 2655 because I want to keep our schools open and ensure our students continue to have access to a quality education. I would remind those who criticized this bill as a ‘product of politics,’ that it is indeed the job of the legislature to address these issues. The legislature consists of 165 elected representatives of the people. I do not take their judgment lightly."

The Supreme Court ruled in February that the block grant system did not satisfy an equity requirement and gave lawmakers until June 30 to fix funding or face school closures. The court will now have to determine if the new formula complies with its decision. Brownback says he hopes the court reviews the compromise with what he calls “appropriate deference."

Shortly after Brownback signed the bill, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt submitted the funding plan to the court, which will likely request input from those who filed suit against the state.

“The critical variable that I hope we can get all parties to agree on and the court will recognize and agree on, is that a swift determination is in everybody’s interest,” Schmidt says.

An attorney for the schools suing the state, Alan Rupe, says this plan doesn’t solve the issue because it shuffles money around and doesn’t add new funding for schools. He says they’ll argue before justices that the state has not complied with the court’s order.

Democratic Rep. Jim Ward says the bill fails miserably to provide equitable education for Kansas students. He says Brownback’s statement that the bill is a compromise is not true.

"There was no compromise. This was written on Wednesday, passed by Thursday and off to the governor by Friday on the last day of the regular session," he says. "[It was] expedited without having ample opportunity to review all of the unintended consequences."

One of the proposed solutions is a property tax hike in Wichita, but Ward says that is a very unpopular way to fill gaps in school funding.

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