Rep. Tim Hodge (D-North Newton) beleives dealing with education funding should be the top priority for the state legislature when it reconvenes April 26.
“I assume it will be,” Hodge said. "I think what will happen is, it will be an opportunity to deal with the bill.”
The bill is a funding bill for education, which the legislature passed to try and respond to a supreme court loss.
The court ruled the state funding level was inadequate. The Kansas Legislature approved a bill to increase school funding by $500 million.
However, there was an error in the bill that actually could lead to some districts — Newton USD 373 included — losing money.
The funding bill approved by the legislature was supposed to contain about $500,000 in increased general fund aid for Newton USD 373, along with nearly $300,000 in new funds for special education. However unless the legislature takes corrective action, the district could lose $75,000.
The district is still set to receive the special education funding, however, due to an error in the way local option budgets are calculated, the general fund will be reduced.
Rep. Fred Patton, a Topeka Republican and chairman of the House committee that produced the bill, said the error is tied to the way local option budgets are calculated as a portion of the state aid. He said the plan was supposed to add about $525 million in funding for public schools over the next five years but failed to include some funding for the upcoming school year that was added in legislation passed last year.
Charts produced by KSDE show a difference of $79.7 million in general state aid between the approved and intended versions of Senate Bill 423. Patton said the Legislature should be able to pass a “technical” correction when it returns on April 26.
“This stuff keeps happening because the majority party will not get real with school finance,” Hodge said.
That error, however, is not the only problem Hodge spots with the bill. He said the bill makes a provision for inflation, however, the number is based on 2017 funding numbers.
“I am highly skeptical of that solution,” Hodge said.
He does not believe that would satisfy the court.
“As everyone knows from all the reports, schools are underfunded,” Hodge said. “... We need to attach (inflation) to the 2009 funding levels, which is the last time we were constitutional. If we attach to that number, we have the chance to be constitutional. … It is basic common sense, if you do not put new money to it, and only put inflation to it, you do not satisfy the court.”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt officially filed the new school-funding bill passed by the Legislature with the Kansas Supreme Court.
In his filing, he also asked the Court to consider modifying its briefing schedule in recognition of the “apparently unintended effect of certain provisions of the new legislation.”
Currently, the Supreme Court has ordered initial briefs filed by April 30 and second briefs by May 10, but has allowed that both sets of briefs may address both the equity and the adequacy of funding under the new law.
Because some legislators and the governor have expressed an intent to further amend some of the adequacy provisions of the new legislation during the wrap-up session of the Legislature that begins April 26 and must end by May 4, Schmidt asked the Court to order that the April 30 briefs focus on the equity of school funding and reserve briefing on adequacy until the May 10 brief.
That separation would avoid the possibility that the adequacy briefs might change if the Legislature further amends the law before it adjourns.
If the court rejects the legislature's funding solution, it could issue an injunction against the legislature that would not allow the state to spend education money. That would, in turn, shutter schools until a constitutional funding solution could be found.
— The Topeka Capitol Journal contributed to this report.