Newsletter - April 7, 2019
Janeth Vasquez, Academic Advisor and Transfer Coordinator at Seward County Community College, talked to me about reciprocity agreements between Seward County and Fort Hays State University and other issues facing students at our community college.
2019 Legislative Session
The Legislature wrapped up the Regular Session on Friday, adjourning for a short break while the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group meets to determine revenue projections. We’ll return to Topeka on May 1 for the Veto Session when we’ll consider bills vetoed by the Governor and put the final touches on the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, which begins July 1.
Before adjourning, the Legislature passed the Governor’s school funding plan, Senate Bill 16. Access to a quality education is the greatest resource we have to ensure our children and our communities can thrive. That’s why I have supported $3.13 billion in funding for our schools over the past two years. However, I could not in good conscience support the plan in SB 16 because I do not believe it’s a promise the Legislature can keep.
Our budget experts say that SB 16 will ultimately leave the state underwater and without the means to pay our bills. In fact, they estimate a negative ending balance of -$243.8 million by Fiscal Year 2022 under the Governor’s plan.
Many things would have to happen in order for the Legislature and the Governor to follow through with the funding promised in SB 16:
- The Supreme Court would have to rule in favor of funding that isn’t based in their opinion.
- The Legislature would have to raise taxes and could not lower the sales tax on groceries.
- The Kansas economy must grow above projections.
- The Legislature would have to continue sweeping dollars from the highway fund.
- The state would not be able to make KPERS payments, and
- There cannot be a recession.
I’m skeptical these things can, or should, happen in order to sustain the promises made in SB 16. Breaking that promise repeats the mistakes that prior legislatures have made, which is why the state has been enthralled in the Gannon school finance litigation for the past decade.
Another troubling aspect of SB 16 is a provision that triggers an automatic inflation increase. This increase commits taxpayers beyond the four years of this school finance plan, and instead applies in perpetuity. That means an estimated $50 to $100 million more each and every year that will have to come from our highways, mental health, corrections, foster care, our colleges, our nursing homes and other essential services that will be made to suffer because of the inflation factor built into this plan.
Kids First Plan
There were better plans on the table that attempted to comply with the court’s mandates in a way that didn’t depend on higher taxes and economic cycles we cannot control. One of those was the Kids First Plan, which I supported.
The Kids First Plan complied with the court order for inflation, allotting an additional $126 million to our schools for inflation costs. It also called for an additional $243 million to be escrowed for our schools. By saving before we spend, we would have “recession proofed” our school finance plan, ensuring we can keep our promises even through an economic downturn. This was a critical component in my mind because it would have provided the stability and certainty of funding that our schools need.
Schools For Fair Funding Response
If there was ever proof that no amount will be enough for the lawyers representing the four school districts who are suing the state, it was in their response within hours of passage of SB 16. Before the bill had even hit the Governor’s desk, the lawyers announced that even the budget-busting, unsustainable funding levels in the Governor’s plan were not enough. Recall that one of the trial lawyers suing the state, Alan Rupe, recently said, that other areas of the budget (like mental health, foster care, corrections, etc.) “may have to suffer,” because of education funding.
The next step is for the Supreme Court to review SB 16 and make a ruling on whether it’s adequate. While no one can predict what their ruling will be, I’m disappointed that the Governor backed away from negotiations on the Kids First Plan, which I believe was the sustainable solution for our schools and our state.
Please reach out to me any time I can assist you with a state agency concern. I do ask that you send the request to me by email. This ensures that I get the information correctly to the agency we are working with. You can reach me when I’m in Topeka by email Shannon.firstname.lastname@example.org
, by phone (785) 296-7466, or by mail at 300 SW 10th
Avenue, 274-W, Topeka, KS 66612. My office at the Capitol is 274W, second floor west wing.