Frustrated with process behind K-12 funding bill, Rooker warns Shawnee Mission could see huge losses if it becomes law as written

Rep. Melissa Rooker said Shawnee Mission schools could see major losses next year due to provisions in the text of the K-12 funding bill as passed.

Fairway Rep. Melissa Rooker on Thursday recounted her frustrations with the way the K-12 funding bill moved through the legislature last weekend, saying there were more problems with the bill than the drafting error that led to $80 million less than intended being allocated to public schools, and warning that Shawnee Mission could see huge reductions in funding if the bill as written becomes law.

During a forum on K-12 finance held by the MainStream Coalition in Overland Park, Rooker said it had been difficult for members to actually see the bill before it came up for a vote. She said by the time she realized House Education Chair Clay Aurand was looking to insert language intended to count money districts raise through local property taxes as part of state-provided education funding, the “train was barreling…down the tracks.”

Aurand had tried to get such language approved for several years. Twice earlier this session the provision was rejected by the committee.

While some in the legislature characterized the inclusion of Aurand’s provision as part of the “drafting error” that would need to be fixed, Rooker said Aurand had been quite intentional about inserting the language into the bill. She noted that he told reporters from the Wichita Eagle earlier this week that his intent was that it would be counted as new state aid.

“The theory is hopefully the court would take that money into account,” Aurand told the Eagle.

Rooker’s concern is that the Supreme Court is unlikely to accept the argument that the local option budget money can be considered new school funding, and would therefore reject the legislature’s K-12 funding plan as unconstitutional, heightening the possibility of school closure.

The day after the bill passed, she was at a loss.

“I went to my office and cried,” Rooker said. “I knew the magnitude of what had happened, and how wrong it was to do what we are doing.”

What’s more, the bill as written would repeal a grandfather clause on the calculation of the local option budget involving special education funding. With the discrepancy noted by the Kansas State Department of Education earlier this week, Shawnee Mission was facing a loss of $230,000 next year instead of the expected gain of $4.4 million. Rooker said that by her estimates, if the grandfather clause repeal goes through, Shawnee Mission would see the loss of millions in year-over-year funding, not hundreds of thousands.

“In addition to the money we’re losing in the bill as it stands…with this calculation of the repeal of the grandfather on special ed, we are negative nearly $3 million,” Rooker said. “We are not alone. Half the districts in the state lose money under this amendment.”

Rooker told the crowd she had instructed the revisor to draft a variety of bills and amendments for every scenario should could think of to fix the bill when the legislature convenes April 26.

“I fear what happens if the bill as it stands is actually the way the law takes effect.”

You can see full video of the forum below: