The Legislative session is moving rapidly toward first adjournment. While there are several policies to be addressed in the session, the budget and school funding remain as the pressing issues. Obviously, those two are closely related as about half of the State General Fund is dedicated to K-12 school funding.

 

Both the Senate and the House passed budgets out of their respective committees late last week or earlier this week. Remember that the State went to a two-year budget process a few years back and we are in the second year of the budget. What that means is fewer adjustments need to be made to the 2019 budget.

 

Since revenues are coming in better, some adjustments are being made. Generally, the adjustments are modest and address issues that have been neglected or have fallen behind due to lack of funds for several years. Of course the improved revenues are primarily due to increased taxes, but at least we are not scrounging for and borrowing additional money to fund the budget. We are not out of the woods on balanced revenues and expenditures, but revenues and expenditures are approaching equality, and that is proper and appropriate fiscal policy for government to have.

 

I mentioned modestly increased funding for FY 2019. By far the largest increases are in the social services, and by that I mean addressing caseloads for Medicaid. Several other increases are things like upgraded computers and computer security systems, some money for the State Water Plan and some law enforcement employee pay increases.

 

Overall, the budget submissions are more than $100M below the Governor’s proposal, but slightly higher if you discount the Governor’s education proposal. However, a couple things to keep in mind are that Judicial and other State employee pay needs to be addressed as the pay is quite low in comparison to market rates. Even though the Corrections Officers have gotten attention, the general turnover rate of State employees is on the high side as well. Oddly, employee pay can probably be increased some and the net cost would remain similar to what it is now, especially when the cost of training is considered.

 

That leaves discussion about the school cost study that was done by Dr. Lori Taylor and an organization called WestEd. While all the information is still being digested, early indicators are that the report suggests the State will get higher education quality and also higher graduation rates by investing some more money. No surprise there. One thing of interest is that Dr. Taylor makes a correlation between graduation rates and the amount of investment. A 95% graduation rate may be desirable, but is it practical and achievable? Perhaps a 90% overall average graduation rate is affordable and achievable. Currently, the Statewide rate is 86.3% Those are the decisions the legislature needs to make soon.

 

General thinking seems to be that the school funding formula in its current form may not be perfect but is OK. So simplifying the issue by addressing funding would likely take care of the court objection at this point. Negotiation between various factions seems to be occurring, which could eventually resolve this issue and bring the court action to a conclusion. Please remember that nothing is resolved as I write this and I am not part of the current negotiations, but there is optimism that we might be able to put this issue to rest and not just continue next year.

 

First adjournment is April 6 and House leadership anticipates concluding school finance and the budget by then. The Legislature will reconvene April 26 for the wrap-up/veto session with final adjournment scheduled on or before May 4. Final adjustments will be made to the budget at that time and all other issues are supposed to be resolved by then. What could possibly go wrong?

 

— Don Schroeder is a Republican member of the Kansas House of Representatives, representing the 74th district. He has served since 2007.