As we write this Under The Dome, the Kansas House of Representatives is debating House Bill 2016, the bill represented as a bipartisan compromise between Governor Laura Kelly and legislative leaders. There is an identical bill in the Senate, SB 7 which will likely be taken up tomorrow (Thursday).

The bill is similar to HB 2052 which was vetoed by Governor Kelly. That bill essentially stripped her of any control over the COVID-19 disaster. Some provisions of the new bill are the same but others were modified.

One new provision says that if the Governor should call for the closure of schools, the Kansas State Board of Education would have to meet and approve of that closure.

KNEA has shared with the Governor’s staff as well as legislative leaders our concern with the first provisions in the bill (sections 1-4) that control the expenditure of CARES (stimulus act) funds. Currently, those funds go to the Governor who determines how they will be spent. Some other CARES funds went to the Kansas State Department of Education who distributes those funds to school districts upon application by the district. This bill would apparently require all expenditures of CARES money go to the State Finance Council for approval.

The State Finance Council is chaired by the Governor and whose members are the Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, Majority Leaders of both chambers, Minority Leaders of both chambers and the chairs of the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The current State Finance Council has three Democrats and six Republicans. Distribution and expenditure of CARES money would require support by the Governor and five legislators. The Governor would need to secure three Republican votes in support of any recommendation. Further, if the CARES money is not spent, it is returned to Washington, D.C.

KNEA does not believe much-needed education funding should be delayed by a bureaucratic process likely to spur partisan wrangling and deal-making. KNEA believes the Kansas State Department of Education should distribute funding to schools without partisan interference. KNEA advocated at the federal level to ensure our schools are fully funded and that the funds are not bound in miles of red tape.

We have expressed concern that school districts who have yet to receive CARES funding will have delays in accessing that money just at the time when schools are set to reopen for the new school year. We also worry about what happens with funds that are currently in the pipeline. Under extraordinary circumstances, districts have begun to make plans and have used federal funds to provide the resources and staffing needed to continue addressing student needs. Sweeping these funds back while other funding gets stuck in a tug-of-war between parties at the state level is simply unnecessary and is not in the best interest of Kansas students.