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Kansas Lawmakers Approve School Funding Plan

Sam Zeff
Kansas News Service
Members of the Kansas House look at the voting board after debate of a school funding bill Monday. The House and Senate approved a plan to add about $300 million over two years for Kansas schools.

A school finance plan that will add nearly $300 million over two years gained approval Monday night in the Kansas Legislature and now moves to Gov. Sam Brownback for consideration.

Lawmakers faced a June 30 deadline to increase school funding after a March ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court that said current funding is inadequate. During debate, some lawmakers raised concerns that the $300 million plan will not satisfy the court and could make a special session likely.

With those issues in mind, Republican Sen. Dinah Sykes said she reluctantly voted yes so districts can start preparing for the next school year.

“Not knowing is more harmful and our school boards need to set their budgets,” said Sykes, a Lenexa Republican. “I believe we will see this again and hopefully we will address these concerns and craft a better bill, but I am in support.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said the funding numbers had been carefully calculated and he believes the plan will gain approval from the court.

The school funding plan passed the House on a 67-55 vote. The Senate later approved it 23-17.

Related: Legislature Approves A Tax Plan -- And Brownback Promises A Veto

The bill includes a provision expanding a private school tax credit program to include individuals. Currently only corporations can provide scholarship money to at-risk students and then claim a 70 percent tax credit.

The tax credit program was a flash point for several lawmakers.

“We need to send this back and get that tax credit out,” said Rep. Steven Crum, a Democrat from Haysville.

Earlier Monday the House rejected a different version of the bill that combined school funding with tax increases. That “mega bill” failed 32-91.

Republicans split on that earlier vote, with some conservatives saying they opposed raising taxes. Other House members said the two big issues shouldn’t be tied together.

Stephen Koranda is the managing editor of the Kansas News Service, based at KCUR. He has nearly 20 years of experience in public media as a reporter and editor.