It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Wurst of Times…

May 15, 2017 by

Yes, it did start out as “the best of times” as the House K-12 Budget Committee over weeks of work and hours of debate crafted HB 2410, a five-year plan to phase in an increase of $750 million new dollars to public schools. It was a bill with an excellent policy structure that represented real hope for starved school districts across Kansas.

There was some debate about the total dollar amount – after all the State Board of Education had recommended a higher number – and there was some additional debate about whether or not a five-year phase in was too long, but nevertheless, supporters of public education saw that the Committee was on the right path.

But today we saw the “Wurst of Times.” And we do mean WURST!

It is said that the two things you should never watch being made are sausage and laws. Today the Committee produced a mix of bratwurst, knockwurst, andouille, and chorizo. They really did make sausage in the Committee room today.

By the end of the meeting, a robust bill that had been crafted with the idea of meeting overall funding adequacy and targeting funding to the students who need the most help, turned into the adoption of an anemic bill that- in the words of one Committee member- will have them “laughed out of court.” They took the bill through a four-hour debate and a series of motions, substitute motions, and divided motions and ended up with a bill they could only vote out with no recommendation.

At the start of the meeting today, the bill had five years of new funding; the first year at $179 million and each of the four succeeding years at $150 million for a total of $779 million over five years. After that, funding increases would equal the Consumer Price Index – Midwest. What ultimately passed had the $179 million for year one and an additional $100 million in year two after which CPI calculation would be used for a total of $279 million over two years.

Under the bill at the start of the meeting, base aid would begin at $4,006 per pupil in the first year and increase by $200 each of the next four years ending in year five at $4,806 per pupil. The bill that came out of committee would start with $4,006 per pupil in the first year and top out at an estimated $4,342 in the fifth year.

The saddest part of this sausage-fest was how the dialogue was changed. Up until today, the discussion was about our students and meeting their needs. That discussion led to the crafting of a good education policy bill and to a much more robust funding bill. Today, the consideration of student need was abandoned for a consideration of how much the politicians wanted to raise in a tax bill. Perhaps more importantly, it demonstrated that the most conservative members of the committee are still tied to Governor Brownback and his failed tax strategies. Reversing Brownback’s disastrous 2012 tax experiment would allow them to adequately fund our public education system and return stability to state services.

The bill now moves to the House floor where it will be debated. We remain hopeful that a strong majority of House members are committed to seeing the Brownback mess cleaned up and our schools adequately and constitutionally funded.

Remember that there are many steps remaining in this process. The bill needs to be passed by the House (hopefully after some good amendments). From there it goes to the Senate where it is subject to Committee hearings, committee amendments, and a floor debate with more amendments possible. If it comes out of the Senate in a different form from the one passed by the House, it will have to go to conference committee for those differences to be negotiated. In other words, we are far from finished. There will be opportunities to turn this “wurst” into something tasty.