Following release of increased revenue estimates, area Democrats say legislature should allocate more in K-12 funding bill

Rep. Cindy Neighbor said the courts had put the legislature “on notice.”

A day after the Kansas Consensus Estimating Group released revisions showing it expects the state to taking in $533.8 million more over the next two fiscal years that previously projected, a group of Democratic legislators from the Shawnee Mission area said they believed the state will need to direct some of that money to K-12 schools if it going to meet the Supreme Court’s demands.

During a Saturday morning forum at the Matt Ross Community Center in Overland Park, Reps. Jarrod Ousley, Brett Parker, Cindy Holscher, Cindy Neighbor, Nancy Lusk and Jerry Stogsdill gave their take on the state of affairs as the legislators prepares to reconvene for its veto session Thursday.

Rep. Cindy Holscher was the only Democrat in the Shawnee Mission area to vote in favor of the bill.

All but Holscher voted against the current version of the K-12 bill — which would eventually provide more than $500 million per year in additional funding — saying that they didn’t believe it included enough new funding to satisfy the court’s latest ruling in the Gannon case.

Holscher acknowledged she stood apart from the other area Democrats on the bill, noting that she was the only representative whose district included portions of the Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Blue Valley school districts.

“I did not love that bill by any means. It probably is not enough money,” she said. “But two of my three school districts strongly supported it. And the third was warm to it. So I do have to vote my district.”

Sen. Barbara Bollier, a moderate Republican from Mission Hills, was in the audience of the forum, but asked to address the audience about the process that had led to the passage of the bill on the Senate side. Bollier voted against the bill, noting that no one in the Senate had seen runs on the financial impact of the legislation.

“None of us knew the money effect,” she said. “Because those numbers hadn’t been calculated yet.”

Bollier also raised the alarm about the prospect of the court putting a freeze on any funding for schools next year if the legislature doesn’t at least pass the trailer bill that would correct the $80 million drafting error in the current version.

“If the trailer bill doesn’t get through, folks your schools are going to get shut down,” Bollier said. “In Gannon 5 the court said we are done messing with you. You fix it now or we are finished.”

Rep. Cindy Neighbor, a former member of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education, hinted that she thought there was the prospect of the courts taking drastic action because “we were definitely put on notice.”

She said she believed the last-minute nature of the negotiations and amendment process was by design.

“We have a group of people serving the legislature that don’t like public education,” Neighbor said. “And they are going to do anything and everything in their power to make this fail.”

Ousley said the upward revision in the revenue estimates proves that the state does have money it could invest in schools without increasing taxes, and argued that the so-called Trimmer and Pittman amendments that would increase funding for special education and to improve graduation rates could be paid for with those additional funds.

“The argument that we can’t afford this without a tax increase is pretty well negated with those estimates coming out,” Ousley said.

Video from the first part of the forum focused on education funding is below: