A proposal to eliminate the way Kansas currently decides how much funding a school district receives in favor of block grants was the main topic of conversation at a legislative coffee held in Hoisington Saturday morning.
The public heard from Senator Mitch Holmes and Representative John Edmonds about developments with H Sub for SB7.
“The house this week has passed a bill which very well may be the most important bill in the past 20 years,” Edmonds said. He also said he was opposed to it because of the way it is being fast-tracked. (See related stories on 3A and 4B.)
The bill eliminates the existing school finance formula that has been in place since 1994, effective immediately. Then, the funds districts will receive this year will be the same next year and in 2017. Districts will be able to spend the money, unrestricted, as they see fit, he said, and sometime in the next two years presumably, the legislature will devise a new funding formula. Having this period with no rules is sure to lead to the land of unintended consequences, he said.
“The process is at least as damning as what the bill does,” he said.
According to Edmonds, while the governor announced the bill eight weeks ago, the legislature did not receive it until 10 days ago. It was put on the fast track because, “the more you look at the worse it looks,” he said. The bill, which was introduced as HB2403. Having been amended, the House took SB7, and through a process Edmonds referred to as “gut and go,” the contents of SB7 were removed, and the contents of HB2403 were inserted into it he bill, essentially making it a whole new bill. Where the fast-tracking comes in is now, the bill is not eligible to be debated further, because SB7 has already been debated by the Senate, and the legislative process now allows for it to go directly back for a senate vote on the House amendment.
“I predict that it will pass on Tuesday or Wednesday with 25 to 30 votes,” he said. “I’d like to be wrong, because its’ a bad bill, and it doesn’t stand up to the light of day.”
Kim Kindscher, Hoisington, asked Edmonds why legislators would vote for it if it is a bad bill. He referred her to a handout he distributed at the beginning of the coffee, “Republican Bill Brief for: H Sub for SB7.”
“Take a look at who the proponents and the opponents are of the bill, and it becomes obvious,” he said. The opponents consisted of the Kansas Association of School Boards, several school districts, United School Administrators, the KNEA, and several individual educators and PTA members. The proponents consisted of Mike O’Neal, Kansas Chamber; James Franko, Kansas Policy Institute; and Chris Brown, Kansans for Liberty and Craig Gabel, Kansas for Liberty. “The proponents have long track records of campaign funding,” Edmonds said. When pressed further why that was important, he pointed to “party discipline” as the answer.
“You are ill-served by this bill,” Edmonds said. “I don’t intend to tell you our school finance bill is okay, but its a huge mistake to throw the baby out with the bath water before you start to write a different formula. Its better to have a formula that is not a very good formula than no formula at all.”
Senator Mitch Holmes weighed in, first stating that as a Senator, he hadn’t yet seen the amended bill. However, he pointed out, he had visited with at least one superintendent in the district he represents, who oversees a small district that will be adversely affected. When allotments were announced in February, his district found itself in a very critical situation. The district is preparing to issue a “no funds warrant” resolution. There are other districts, he knows of, that will find themselves in a similar situation.
The state anticipated a need for an extraordinary needs fund, where districts can ask for money to cover these shortfalls, but there is concern about what criteria will be required for districts to make their case, he said. Holmes would like to see one of the criteria that would move a district to the front of the line be filing for no funds warrants. But with the bill in the state its in now, it’s uncertain if that could be added at this point, he said.
One last possibility exists for changing the course of this bill. If some of the legislators that voted yes on Friday flip their votes Monday, the bill could be dead. Edmonds hopes that will happen, if enough feedback from voters reaches legislators through meetings like the one held Saturday at Hoisington’s Activity Center.