House Speaker Ron Ryckman defended a school finance package that eliminates two years of planned funding increases he says the state budget can't handle.
Republicans in the House have crafted a pair of bills that install policy changes in public education and dictate how $90 million in new funding would be spent. The House passed the policy portion Tuesday on a 63-62 vote, sending it to the Senate.
The funding bill matches the court-ordered inflation adjustment proposed by Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat. However, the legislation wipes out $213 million from the five-year, $525 million addition the Legislature adopted last year.
For last year's funding plan to remain viable, Ryckman said on Monday, the economy can't go into recession, which is expected, and the state would need to raise taxes and continue sweeping highway funds.
"The politics have changed," Ryckman said. "The temperature in this building has changed. The numbers have not."
A competing school finance plan from the Senate mirrors the governor's proposal, which adds $90 million per year to last year's plan.
Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, addressed concerns with the school finance package in a meeting of House Republicans who wondered whether the Kansas Supreme Court would approve the plan.
"Can I sit here and tell you this bill is constitutional?" Ryckman said. "I can give you a much better case than I can for what the Senate passed. I can also tell you the one the Senate passed, it won't be funded. The court will keep it for four years, and we'll not be able to fund it, and we're right back."
Rep. Kristey Williams, a Republican from Augusta who served as chairwoman of the K-12 budget committee, said she stripped policy items floated earlier in the session that didn't have broad consensus. That meant nixing the controversial plan to allow bullying victims to take their portion of public school funds to a private school.
She retained accountability measures, such as online report cards developed by the Kansas State Department of Education that highlight student achievement at each district.
Critics say Williams didn't consult with education professionals, and some of those accountability measures impose "unfunded mandates" on schools, including a requirement to establish a bullying hotline. Among other complaints, the critics say the bill removes a commitment for special education students.
"I know I heard several times from this body, 'We want to get out of litigation,' " said Rep. Cindy Neighbor, D-Shawnee. "This is not going to do it. We all know that."
The House's funding bill requires schools to spend half of the $90 million in new money on evidence-based programs that help lower-performing students. A mental health program would be expanded with a $20 million investment.
"I wish we knew if we would satisfy the court or not, but I will say this bill promises something the Legislature can keep," Williams said.
Rep. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, said no school district in the state favors the House's policy and funding package. Last year's plan, Holscher said, shows the formula for spending education money is fine.
"Here's the situation," Holscher said. "We had one job to do in regard to education, and it's adjust for inflation."
The House is scheduled to tackle funding on Tuesday, and final passage would trigger negotiations between the House and Senate.
Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers said the Senate bill passed with bipartisan support and presents the best option.
"The current House education bill won’t pass constitutional muster," Rogers said.
In a sign of possible discord at the meeting of House Republicans, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said she has heard that some lawmakers in the party don't like the funding plan and may float a surprise amendment on the floor.
Landwehr encouraged her passive colleagues to air any grievances they have.
"This is the biggest budget we have in the state," Landwehr said. "We've got no comment in here? To do it in secrecy, or do it outside of the leadership and your fellow caucus members — I'm sorry folks, that's just wrong."