Shawnee Mission area legislators sound off on what needs to happen with K-12 bill during veto session

Jay Senter - April 26, 2018 8:00 am
Lawmakers return to the statehouse today to take up consideration of a “fix” to the K-12 funding bill.

All eyes will be on the legislature starting today as it reconvenes for a veto session during which it will consider a “fix” to the school funding bill it passed and Gov. Jeff Colyer signed earlier this month.

As presently written, the bill would represent the loss of more than $2 million in funds available to Shawnee Mission schools next year.

We asked all 18 members of the Shawnee Mission area delegation for their take on what needs to happen with the K-12 bill before the veto session closes. Here’s what we’ve received:

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Barbara Bollier, Senate District 7

The current bill as signed by our Governor is untenable for the SM School District. My understanding at this juncture is that the House will be presented with some type of “trailer bill” to address at least some of the issues. Bottom line, what I hope and what SM needs to pass is an elimination of the entire amendment that had language originally developed by Rep. Clay Aurand. I would additionally support a move to have the Senate policy language inserted with the House’s money, but who knows if that is passable or not? Since the opportunity to amend most likely will only be on the House side, I will not have that opportunity myself.

Whatever does pass the House will then come to the Senate in a Senate Bill (remember Gut and Go? This is where it comes in to play). Since the “shell” has already passed our chamber, we are only afforded an Up or Down vote on the bill. If the problem has been fixed, I will support it. If not, then I will be a NO vote.

If this problem cannot be fixed and the bill goes as is to the Courts, I firmly believe it will not pass muster and we will be in a real pickle. The Court has been clear in saying this is our last chance. They have the power to declare our funding unconstitutional and stop that funding. Without funds, our schools cannot remain open. According to SM District authorities, we have enough money to meet payroll for just under three weeks. If you haven’t realized it yet, we are in a CRISIS if this is not fixed! The rubber is meeting the road…your votes matter!

Stephanie Clayton, House District 19

This Thursday, April 26, the Kansas Legislature begins our wrap-up Session, otherwise referred to as Veto Session. We begin the Session in a state of turmoil, as the education funding bill that was passed at the end of the Regular Session was revealed to have a massive error. Fixing this error is in the forefront of my mind as I make my preparations to return.

While attaining the aforementioned fix is my top priority, it is also worth noting that last Friday, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group revised the revenue estimate for the next 15 months upward by $534 million. I echo the calls of my colleagues for caution and prudence in regards to these estimates, as economic fluctuation is always a concern. That said, I also remember the promises that I have made to voters throughout my career: that I would repeal the Brownback tax plan, and I would vote to fully fund schools. Last June, I worked with many other legislators to craft and ultimately pass a partial repeal of the tax plan, and I am proud to consistently vote for bills and amendments that I believe will constitutionally fund our schools. When I return, I will vote for a bill that will fix the error, but I will also vote to secure strong funding for the Base State Aid Per Pupil, as well as extra stabilizing funds for Special Education. I have voted for these funding plans in the past, and will vote for them again, even if that vote means that further tax reform may be necessary, should a trade war ensue and adversely affect Kansas agriculture incomes.

Once we have stabilized our school funding crisis, we need to eliminate our Social Services Waiting lists, stabilize KPERS, and ensure that our Transportation and Higher Education funding is flush. Although the State is still in quite a ruin, the proverbial dumpster fire is slowly dying, and repair is on the horizon. I have no doubt that all of these issues can be remedied, the same way that we conquer all problems: one at a time.

Tom Cox, House District 17

When we passed the school finance bill, no one knew, or if they did, no one told the body about how the altering of the LOB (local option budget) funding would cost $80 million to overall K-12 funding, specifically hitting SMSD the hardest. I tend to be an optimist and believe that it was an unintended consequence, not a malicious attack on our school district, but it highlights a dangerous precedent set in the Kansas Legislature over the last 6 years: waiting until the last minute. We could have started this debate months ago, could have worked and even voted on a bill months ago, but instead, everything was held until the last week. This prevents us from properly vetting all aspects of the bill, from catching mistakes like this. It is a trend we have to change. In the 2016 election, we made huge strides to change the culture in Topeka and it is very different, but it needs to keep changing further.

For context, from 2012-2016 House leadership ruled with an iron fist. They negotiated deals behind closed deals and then presented the only option to the House to vote on. They stuffed House Bills into Senate Bills so they could not be amended or altered, just voted for or against. This is how they passed budgets, tax or any potentially controversial bills. I do applaud the new 2017-2018 House leadership in changing this trend. We have had robust, open debate on the budget, school finance, taxes, Medicaid expansion and more over the last two years. But we still have kept the tradition of waiting until the end, when backs are against the wall to tackle important topics that we didn’t have to wait on. This is how $80 million mistakes are made.

In 2019 this must be a major focus of change in the Topeka culture. Again, we have made huge leaps in changing the culture. The House body and leadership (on both sides) should be recognized for that, but we still have further we can and should go. Changing culture is slow and often difficult, but I believe we can do it.

When we return to session on Thursday, April 26th, I fully plan to support the fix to restore the $80 million dollars clearly intended in the bill for schools. I will support fully repealing the section changed on the LOB to make sure the mistake is entirely fixed. It is too late in the game to risk not getting the fix 100% right. I hope to have a full, robust debate on this fix with possible amendments brought forth as well.

Jarrod Ousley, House District 24

I look forward to having an opportunity to fix the formula, and provide amendments to actually fix it to constitutional levels of funding

Melissa Rooker, House District 25

We head back for an abbreviated Veto Session with monumental decisions ahead of us. We must attempt to repair the damage done to the school finance bill by last minute changes, and we have the state budget to pass. I attended the Shawnee Mission School Board meeting on Monday night and appreciated the opportunity to discuss a bill I have drafted – a “trailer bill” – that provides clean repeal of the flawed section of SB 423. By restoring provisions to the calculation of the Local Option Budget to the terms that existed before SB 423 was passed not only restores funding as intended by lawmakers, but also represents “safe harbor” from a legal standpoint. The hour is late and the time for tinkering with the formula is long since past. Attorneys in the case on both sides are frustrated with the delays as they cannot write their briefs, and the fate of our upcoming school year hangs in the balance.

While many differing opinions exist with regard to the level of funding currently in the bill, one thing is clear – without a fix to the flaw in the formula, no amount of money can be distributed to schools as of July 1 because of clear violations of equity that now exist in the bill.

Will we have enough votes to fix the problem? I hope so. Our district has called the current state of the bill devastating and all six Johnson County districts have called on the Johnson County delegation of lawmakers to lead the way in championing the legislation needed to repeal the problem area. The business leaders in all eight of our Johnson County Chambers of Commerce have joined together to do the same. The bill draft is ready – it was introduced in House Appropriations and Senate Ways & Means committees yesterday. Let’s hope the votes are there to get the job done.

Jerry Stogsdill, House District 21

We have our work cut out for us when we return to Topeka this week for the wrap up session of the Legislature. The education finance bill that the Governor signed will, in my opinion, not pass constitutional muster which is why I voted against it. We need to remove the LOB language from the bill which, in my opinion, is nothing more than an accounting ruse, inserted by the ultra-conservatives, designed to try and fool the public by making it look like the state is contributing more than it actually is. We should also include the financial amendments submitted by Representatives Trimmer and Pittman which would come much closer to providing the funding levels I believe the Kansas Supreme Court will find constitutional.

Remember we are having to correct 8 years of conservative, Brownback (and now Colyer) led Republican disdain and neglect of our public schools. If they had done their constitutional duty during that time we would not be having to make these very difficult decisions today. Hopefully we will have enough adults in the room who are willing to make the tough decisions necessary to guarantee our children’s educational future, to secure our home values and to guarantee a prosperous economic future for Kansas.

I urge my constituents to contact me if they have any other questions or suggestions. My contact information is on my website at jerryforkansas.com.

We’ll add other local legislators’ statements as they come in.

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