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Finally, A Kansas School Funding Plan May Be Near

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Kansas News Service
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The Kansas Senate is expected to make a final vote Wednesday on a school funding bill that would add $234 million over two years for K-12 education.

Updated Wednesday at 11:54 a.m. 

After 10 hours of debate, a dozen amendments and a timeout to talk taxes, the Kansas Senate early Wednesday advanced a school finance plan, which they approved in a final vote of 23-16 later the same morning.

Once they finished debate, senators ended where they began: an additional $234 million over two years for K-12 education. That is $50 million less than the House plan that the Kansas State Department of Education now says would add $284 million in new money over two years and then increase funding according to the rate of inflation.

But some senators who voted for the plan, like their House colleagues, believe neither bill has enough funding to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled earlier this year that the current amount is inadequate

Even Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican who carried the bill, is prepared for an adverse ruling from the high court.

“We’ll come back for a special session and sort it out,” he said during a GOP caucus before the debate.

While the funding formula is similar in both bills, the Senate bill includes an amendment that would phase out some of the money the state pays for out-of-state students to attend Kansas schools. The Kansas State Department of Education says about 625 students cross the state line into Kansas for school. That costs up to $6 million a year.

The amendment would not ban out-of-state students but would cut state aid for them to 75 percent next year and 50 percent after that.

During debate, Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka attempted to add $419 million to the plan. “I think that both the House and Senate bills are inadequate,” he said.

His amendment failed on a 16-23 vote.

Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican, proposed an amendment to remove funding for all-day kindergarten. He said that would save $63 million a year. Senators also rejected that amendment. The two bills now move to a conference committee to negotiate differences, but most lawmakers expect that to be a smooth process.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.