Capitol Update: On block grants, ‘The more time we have to evaluate the effects of this bill the worse it looks’

To keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we feature an update columns each Monday from one of northeast Johnson County’s elected officials: Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf. Rep. Rooker submits this week’s update:

Rep. Melissa Rooker
Rep. Melissa Rooker

Many of you are aware the legislature is fast-tracking SB 7, a 100-page bill that will radically overhaul the funding for K-12 public education.  I voted against this bill for a variety of reasons outlined in my newsletter on Friday, which I encourage you to read as preface for this article.

The reason for the haste?  The more time we have to evaluate the effects of this bill the worse it looks. The rhetoric in support of the bill promises to stop the cycle of litigation over school finance in its tracks with the shift to block grants and repeal of our existing finance formula.  The reality? The House passed the bill at 10:38 a.m. on Friday morning and the court issued a ruling at 11:04 a.m. to schedule a hearing in the case reopening the equity portion of Gannon, settled with extra funding at the end of the last legislative session. This article from the Lawrence Journal World explains in more detail.

The unusual speed with which the legislature is moving this bill through the process is under scrutiny.  The bill was introduced Thursday, March 5 at 5 p.m. and final action was taken in the House a mere six business days later. The Topeka Capital-Journal provides insight into that process. Procedural moves were taken to limit public input and honest debate, as well as preventing any amendments from being offered in the Senate. No school boards had the chance to meet and weigh in on the bill prior to the hearing held on Monday morning at 9 a.m. in House Appropriations Committee.

The fact that the promise of new funding in this bill is not backed up with ACTUAL money, nor exists a plan to raise the revenue needed to close the existing budget deficit, is cause for great concern. What about the $300 million in “new” funding supposedly promised, let alone the money to fund the $600 million deficit?  The “new” funding is, in reality, money put into the KPERS retirement fund to restore money cut in the rescission and allotment process.  KPERS funding is important, but it is not new money for the classroom – it is the state working to close a $7 billion dollar unfunded liability in the KPERS system.

I am not alone in my misgivings about this radical new plan. The recklessness of repealing the existing funding formula BEFORE we have even begun to plan a new one is raising concerns all around the state.  Here are several other sources of information about the bill:

Wichita Eagle

Newsletter from State Representative Don Hineman

Garden City Telegram Op-Ed

Hutchinson News Op-Ed

The expectation is that we will see a rapid vote in the Senate and the bill sent to the governor for signature.  As this story continues to develop I will endeavor to keep you informed.  Please visit my website to sign up for my newsletter. As always, I appreciate your input and am honored to be your voice in Topeka.