he Legislative Session is getting interesting as we are winding down and nearing first adjournment. Many previously passed bills are now in conference, but the big issues remain unresolved. Those issues are the school funding and the budget. Obviously, those issues must be resolved, but doing so may not be easy to accomplish.
To start the week, the House brought a school funding bill up for debate on the floor. That bill, HB 2445, added about $500M to the existing funding that was passed last year, bringing the total to around $800M of additional funding in five years. There are those that want to say it is a $2B increase, which it is if you add all five years together. But that is not the normal way to do the math. Normally the cost is considered to be an annual cost, which means the funding to schools would be $800M more than in 2016. The chart shows total annual statewide school funding would go from the 2016 level of $3.434B to a projected total funding of $4.258B in 2023.
The Senate passed a funding plan also, but I don’t know much detail about it other than it would add about $275M to the existing funding. I don’t know if the Senate plan is a three or five year plan, but the amount of funding is about half of the House plan. House leadership is fairly certain the House plan would meet court muster, but no one knows if the Senate proposal would pass the court.
In the middle of the week, the Senate drew a line in the sand and said they would not work any school funding proposals until the House passes a Constitutional Amendment limiting the Court from declaring unconstitutional a school funding proposal the Legislature had adopted. They softened that line a little the next day and soon started work on their version of school funding.
The House Judiciary Committee passed a Constitutional Amendment by a close margin of 12-10. However, for a constitutional Amendment to pass to the voters it takes a 2/3 majority in both the House and Senate. That is 84 votes in the House, 27 in the Senate and a simple majority of voters. Both House and Senate votes do not appear to be there, so that issue may be delayed or left behind completely. Another important item to note is that a Constitutional Amendment proposal makes absolutely no difference on the existing funding issue as a vote on an amendment would not occur until November of this year at the earliest.
The House and Senate funding plans will go into Education Conference Committee. Of course, the two positions are quite a distance apart, so logic might suggest the end product would be somewhere in between. An issue with the wide distance between the House and Senate positions is that if the amount is too far off from what passed each chamber there may not be enough votes to pass the Conference Report in either, or both chambers. The big unknown is whether the court will accept what the Legislature has done.
Other than that, we continue to vote on reports on the wide variety of issues that have already passed the House and/or the Senate. Since we have already seen and voted on most of those issues, it is relatively easy to review and vote on them again. Changes are made to the bills and it is important to compare and see what actually changed, good or bad.
After this weekend the Legislature will be adjourned for about three weeks. Since this will be my last article until we reconvene April 26, I can only speculate that some type of school funding proposal will pass and be sent up to the court for review. Certainly we all hope it meets muster. If it does not, it is likely the Legislature will meet in special session sometime this summer.
— Don Schroeder is a Republican member of the Kansas House of Representatives, representing the 74th district. He has served since 2007.