The Kansas Legislature finally adjourned for their spring season break at about 4:30 a.m. Friday, after approving dozens of policies indicative of the mixed-up priorities of the majority party.
The best news of the night is that thanks to the advocacy of so many of you, the Senate rejected the mega voucher bill! Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes (D-Lenexa) immediately made a procedural move to reconsider the vote. That motion failed, and cannot be made again. Thus, the mega voucher bill is dead for now. Additionally, a bill seeking to expand exemptions to childhood immunizations and restrict efforts to control pandemics failed to pass the Senate. This time, Senator Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) made a motion to reconsider, and it failed, again.
But, for the rest of the day/night, there was seemingly no end to the political wrangling over attempts to advance a national agenda of ultra-conservative policy attacks on kids and public education. Sadly, upon adjournment, the legislature failed in its constitutional duty to fund public schools in Kansas. Without consensus around a slew of harmful policies inserted into the K-12 budget, we must wait until legislators return to Topeka at the end of April to learn if our public schools will be constitutionally funded.
As has been the recent history of conservative leadership in the Kansas Legislature, attempts to ram policy into the budget and dare the Governor to veto were made in conference committees. Many of these policies had no public hearings and appeared to be brewed up in a cauldron of bad ideas at the 11th hour.
The ultra-conservative leadership jockeying these committees included K-12 budget chairperson, Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta). While dozens of observers gathered late Wednesday hopeful that a clean funding bill would be achieved, Williams was a no-show to the conference committee, claiming that she wasn’t notified of the meeting time. Thus, the committee was forced to reconvene late Thursday morning. It surprised no one that Williams brought new policy ideas to the table at that time.
Most notable was a provision championed alongside Senate Education Chairperson Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R- Louisburg) that cuts K-12 base state aid by freezing it at its current rate of $4,846 instead of moving to the previously anticipated increase of $5,103. It also requires legislative action to “unfreeze” on an annual basis. Estimated funding losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars began to circulate in the statehouse with most observers shaking their heads at the fiscal crater that would result. Moreover, most believe that passing this policy (again without a public hearing) would land Kansas right back into a cycle of litigation in the Kansas Supreme Court with a return to the Gannon arguments.
Remember, the Kansas Supreme Court retained jurisdiction when it ruled funding had finally met constitutional muster- perhaps fearing that the legislature would quickly try to circumvent the ruling. (Coincidentally – or maybe not – the funding cut proposal was added on the fourth anniversary of Governor Kelly signing the first of the school finance bill to fully fund schools for the first year in about a decade and satisfy the Gannon decision.)
Despite much anticipation for the vote on this behemoth of a bill, it never came about. It could’ve been because it just wasn’t ready in time or it could’ve been because leadership was unable to whip enough votes necessary for passage. We’ll never know. However, the political rodeo will continue and we are certain there will be no concern on the part of Williams and her supporters for the costly litigation, or the harmful impact on public schools that will result from her attempts to sneak partisan policy under the cover of darkness.
While students will wait to see if their legislature will return to the Brownback years of underfunded schools and play chicken with the Kansas Supreme Court, more policies intended to enflame the culture wars and attack marginalized kids passed to the Governor’s desk.
A key player in the most recent attempt to ban transgender students from participation in school activities is freshman Democratic Representative Marvin Robinson (D-Kansas City, Kansas). Robinson was seen meeting with ultra-conservative legislators at a local bar just hours before casting the final vote. Others reported that he had met with Republican leadership behind closed doors. Finally, it was widely reported that Robinson was paraded before the Republican caucus after casting his vote to cast out transgender children from school activities, where he received a raucous ovation.
In summary, as the sun began to rise this morning – the morning of Good Friday – many of the attacks on public education and Kansas students continue. Because of the advocacy we have seen coming from parents and educators throughout Kansas, there is much reason for optimism. Many of the harmful policies that have advanced to Governor Kelly’s desk would likely not survive an attempt to override her veto if she chooses to execute that authority. In addition, much work is yet to be done, and as evidenced by the inability to pass a policy-laden K-12 budget, our advocacy MUST continue.
LIVE TRACKER OF KEY BILLS
Below is a table of key bills, where they are in the process, and information to use when meeting with your representatives. Your advocacy was key in minimizing the damage done to Kansas public schools, students, and educators, however, the work isn’t over.
PLEASE CLICK A BILL TO EXPAND TO FULL VIEW