Shawnee Mission lawmakers, advocates respond to passage of K-12 funding bill

With Gov. Laura Kelly’s signature, the bill would increase state aid by $90 million per year for K-12 schools.

On Thursday night, the Senate voted to approve a K-12 bill previously given the green light by the House, sending the bill to Gov. Laura Kelly for her signature.

Supporters hope the bill, which will add $90 million in annual state aid to the public education system, will satisfy the requirement outlined by the Kansas Supreme Court in its decision last spring.

We put out a call for comment to members of the Shawnee Mission area delegation to the statehouse as well as local advocates. Here’s their take on the bill:

Sen. Barbara Bollier (Mission Hills)

The Kansas legislature, after years of unconstitutional funding for our public schools, has finally voted through a bill that should resolve the Gannon school funding case.  In its Gannon VI order on June 25, 2018, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled, “The State has not met the adequacy requirement in Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution.”  The five-year $522 million financial commitment to K-12 education that was passed last year needed additional money to account for inflation, and the passage of SB 16 should satisfy the Court.

Most District 7 constituents believe that funding our public schools is our highest priority. This bill represents a bipartisan, good-faith effort by the 2019 Legislature to comply with the Gannon adequacy requirement. It passed 31 to 8 out of the Senate, and 76 to 47 out of the House; this is also the Governor’s recommended solution to constitutionally funding our public schools.

Sen. Pat Pettey (Kansas City, Kan.)

It took the full regular session for the Kansas legislature to pass a funding plan for K-12 education that Governor Kelly proposed in January. This is good for all our schools and the economic life of our communities. The disappointing part of this negotiations was when the House Education chair referred to this as a Kelly- Senate plan and going against Republican values. Quality Education is not political it is our future. Sen. Pat Pettey

I was a proud “aye” vote for this bill. Our children’s success for tomorrow depends on the effectiveness of their schools today. Business owners cite having a well-educated work force as one of the most important elements needed when deciding where to locate. Kansas has for generations proudly stood by its schools. After years of underfunding, the legislature has finally voted to stand with our children and their futures.

Rep. Tom Cox (Shawnee)

I am excited and proud that both the House and the Senate passed this school funding bill. I voted YES because I strongly believe this will settle the on-going litigation on the underfunding of our schools. Each year we have gotten closer and closer to resolution and I think this is the final step. I will remain committed to ensuring that in future years this allocation to K-12 schools does not get repealed or cut. We still have a long way to go and there are some still saying this is not enough to resolve the lawsuit, but I strongly disagree. The amount of funding we add is an inflationary adjustment to account for the slower phase-in of new K-12 spending. This calculation was done very carefully with the Department of Education to ensure it gets the number right. I am also excited that in the bill we have decided to extend the Dyslexia Task Force an additional 2 year to oversee the implementation of their recommendations. Thursday was a great day for our schools, our children, and our state.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton (Overland Park)

I was pleased and proud to support a K-12 education finance plan that I believe will bring our state into constitutional compliance. I was greatly concerned to see the way that House Leadership fought so hard against a plan supported by our six Johnson County superintendents. This has been a long fight, and I hope to see resolution so that we are able to continue rebuilding our state.

Rep. Cindy Holscher (Olathe)

I’ll admit, there were times this session when I doubted we would ever get to vote on a decent education funding policy in the House.  As a member of the K-12 Budget committee, it was apparent early on that the committee chair (as directed by the far-right Speaker of the House and other extremist leaders) had no intention of holding reasonable conversations on a plan. Rather, most of our time in committee was spent on “informational sessions” on various topics.

We were given one job – adjust for inflation to the funding that was approved in the previous session.  It was spelled out clearly – even before session began in January. Yet when concerned committee members inquired as to when such a bill would be worked, we were brushed aside.

Then in March a bill was brought forward that in the Committee Chair’s words was “developed by people outside the walls” of the K-12 Budget committee.  In other words, it was a bill developed by extremist leadership in the House. It was laden with unnecessary policy and provisions, and did nothing to address the critical piece regarding funding.  During the hearing process, one individual pointed out that the bill had several provisions that were “a waste of time” – and that came from one of the supporters of the bill (there were THREE total).   Dozens of school districts and individuals provided testimony in opposition to the bill. However, in the end, the committee (which was stacked with extremists) voted to move the bill forward.

When the bill came to the House floor, it was brought to the attention of the body that NO school district, in fact, no one involved in education supported this bill.  Hundreds of emails had been sent to Legislators by constituents asking for a no vote. Many of us worked behind the scenes to educate and urge our peers to vote against this Legislation.  We knew the count would be close. When it came for a vote, initially, the measure was failing 60-63. And then came what was likely the most disheartening part of the session. Leadership scanned the vote board and then started picking up the phone calling members of their party who voted no.  Freshman legislators were the targets as they’re easier to pick off with promises and/or ultimatums. And, one-by-one, as the roll was held open, enough minds were “changed” to pass the measure.

Fortunately, though, the Senate (led by the efforts of Sen. Molly Baumgardner) did the heavy lifting earlier in session and adopted the Governor’s plan that addressed the inflation issue.    Through an often contentious conference committee process, the Senate held strong on their position while the House committee chair often deflected questions and chastised the other chamber. In the end, the Senate financial position prevailed, and that measure passed the House 76-47.

I am proud of the bipartisan group of Representatives who voted yes on this bill today.  Many of us were here two years ago, united in our efforts to end the disastrous Brownback experiment.  Let us hope we can continue moving the ball forward, as we work to rebuild our state and attain stability.

Rep. Jan Kessinger (Overland Park)

Today the House and the Senate overwhelmingly sent a message to Kansas school children that Kansas is investing in their education.  We also sent a message to the Supreme Court that we responded to their decision last year on school funding and have produced a constitutional fix to the under-funding of schools the past several years.

There is concern about how to pay for the out years, with claims that we cannot afford to provide roads, Medicaid Expansion, prison updating and more.  However, with smart and fiscally sound budgeting, it can be done without a tax increase.

Make no mistake, we are still (and will be for the next 12 – 15 years) paying for the tax experiment that put Kansas deeply in debt.  We are making progress, but have a long way to go.  If the budget gets tight, it is not the fault of adequately funding schools, it is bad tax policy that put us deeply in debt.

I am excited that we have made a commitment to education and the students who are our future.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley (Merriam)

It’s been seven years since our school districts first felt the pain of the Brownback Tax experiment.  We’ve worked long and hard to have the opportunity to start repairing the damage, and I’m thankful we’ve finally passed a bill that has a shot at providing constitutional funding for our children.  Districts can start planing their budgets in earnest, and we can provide some stability to our education system once again.

Rep. Rui Xu (Westwood)

I was truly honored to vote for Governor’s K-12 funding plan and finally make sure that our schools are fully funded.

While lawmakers may express a sign of relief about hopefully getting out of the cycle of litigation known as the Gannon court case, my overarching emotion is excitement for our state’s students, our state’s teachers, and our state’s future. A budget can be interpreted as a monetary expression of values, and I can think of no greater investment than in our amazing children and those who guide them.

By getting through this court case, everyone in our education system can stop looking backwards and how things USED to be funded or how the formula USED to work, but rather, we can once again start looking forward and start to aspire towards better again. We have the money and it’s being distributed equitably; now, how can we get even better at using that to make sure our kid are even better prepared for the possibilities that will be presented to them? These are the questions that excite me, and these are the questions that I am honored to help solve in legislature as we continue to make a better world and a better Kansas.

Advocacy groups

Judith Deedy, Game on for Kansas Schools

We were happy to see both the House and Senate pass the school funding inflation adjustment package. We believe this inflation approach fills the hole that would otherwise be formed if the legislature failed to account for inflation during the phase-in of the Gannon funding plan. Parents across Kansas have witnessed the impacts of nearly a decade of budget constraints. We have started to make progress in restoring necessary staffing, programs and resources, but if we fail to account for inflation during the phase-in of the funding, we are essentially going back to making cuts. This isn’t just about money; if the legislature had not added funding for inflation, then there would be students whose needs could not be met, and programs or staff that could not be provided.

We are also pleased that much of the “policy” the House leadership tried to insert into the bill was rejected. We support accountability and improvements, but the House proposals were flawed and had not been fully vetted. We also appreciate the fact that this year we don’t have to fear our governor will veto the bill as have in years past. We remain disappointed that a significant number of legislators continue to underplay the role of the Brownback tax experiment in the situation we are in now and who fail to grasp the challenges our schools and students face and all the ways our districts are working to address them.

Megan Peters, Education First Shawnee Mission

Education First Shawnee Mission is thrilled that the KS Legislature passed a funding bill that will keep KS Public schools in funding compliance and potentially end the continuous cycle of litigation! The pro-public education representatives from Shawnee Mission were critical to the passage of the funding bill – we are proud of those who supported the bill and will continue to work tirelessly to ensure the Shawnee Mission community continues to benefit from our excellent FULLY FUNDED schools now and in the years to come!” Megan Peters, Education First Shawnee Mission