The 2018 Kansas Legislative session is underway. Being the second year of this biennium, much of the preliminary process has already been done last year. Normally that means a quicker start since this year simply adds to the information from last year. Committees are cranking up quickly and everything should be rolling pretty well by next week.
Gov. Sam Brownback gave the State of the State message Tuesday evening. Not much new information, but more along the lines of Kansas is a great place, which it is, along with a school funding proposal. As for the governor’s nomination as Ambassador of Religious Liberty, when the Congress adjourned in December, that ended the congressional session. President Donald Trump has renominated Brownback, who now has to go through a U.S. Senate committee hearing and then to the full Senate for confirmation. That could take a while as Congress did not finish their budget.
Other items the Kansas Legislature has on the plate are school funding and addressing the Kancare issues, especially as it pertains to children. There is also the budget and other issues. The most pressing issue is school funding and equity. The Legislative Coordinating Council has made a decision to have an abbreviated study done to provide better direction on legislation that may be needed.
As a brief review, the Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling that the Legislation passed last year did not meet the adequacy test. That means additional funding may be needed for K-12 education in Kansas. The court focused to a large degree on the lowest achieving 25 percent of the students who are behind the other students in academic achievement. There has not been any specific dollar amounts attached to the decision, so it is somewhat difficult to say what is expected.
The governor’s State of the State message suggested adding $600 million over 5 years to school funding, but did not say where those funds might come from. After several years of extremely tight budgets and having to override the governor to bring the budget back to some semblance of balance, the only place to find that kind of money at this point is either take additional money from agencies or increase taxes again. I don’t see either of those happening but rather expect to wait and see if the current revenues are adequate before making changes.
As for the budget, the Legislature adopted a two-year budget system a couple years ago. The first year of the current budget was last year when the more difficult work was done. This year, the budget will be reviewed and some adjustments will be made based on the latest revenue and agency information. I don’t expect any major revisions, except perhaps in education. As already stated, the education issue will dominate what the Legislature does this session and could affect the budget in a major way.
Earlier there was talk about the possibility of a Constitutional amendment to clarify Article 6, subsection 6(b) of the Kansas Constitution. That is the section addressing education in Kansas and where the words ‘suitable provision for finance’ can be found. An amendment try will be made, but is unlikely to succeed. Another amendment may be to prohibit schools from being closed as long as funds are available.
Legislative members are often asked how additional funding for education would be paid for. There seems to be little appetite for another tax increase this year, so the remaining option would be relatively drastic reductions to agencies and departments other than education. It is a very difficult situation to be in as that would mean cutting some of the supports for education, such as mental health and law enforcement. We certainly have our work cut out for us!
Rep. Don Schroeder representes District 74 in the Kansas House of Representatives.