Kansas House advances school funding plan

SCHOOL FUNDING

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A plan for boosting aid to poor Kansas school districts won first-round approval Friday in the state House after Gov. Sam Brownback urged fellow Republicans to support it.

The House’s 84-36 vote advanced the measure to final action, which was expected later Friday. It came only a few hours after Brownback met with majority Republicans and praised the measure.

The House plan would increase aid to the state’s poorest school districts by $141 million, offsetting the cost partially but not completely by adjustments elsewhere in the budget.

Final approval would clear the way for negotiations with the Senate, which approved its own, less generous school funding plan early Friday on a 23-17 vote after Republicans linked the new money to education policies such as blocking the use of multistate reading and math standards.

Both the House and Senate plans are responses to a Kansas Supreme Court order last month that directed lawmakers to increase aid to poor school districts by July 1. The court ruled in a lawsuit filed by parents and the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Kansas City and Wichita school districts. Legislative leaders hope lawmakers will approve the final version of a plan by Saturday.

“I think we should be proud that we have addressed the Supreme Court’s equity demands in good order,” said Rep. Marvin Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said she’s confident that the two chambers can reach agreement quickly.

Brownback shied away from an outright endorsement of one plan over the other but praised the House plan, saying, ‘We’re in a position financially that we can do it.”

“It’s still hard, but it’s part of governance,” Brownback told House Republicans during a caucus before the debate. “You’ve got a bill in front of you that I think’s a good bill. I think you should support it. I think you ought to move it on through the process.”

The House plan was drafted by its Appropriations Committee and later revised. The committee had considered offsetting the cost of additional aid to poor districts by trimming districts’ aid for transportation and online classes and by decreasing payments to cover teacher pensions. The committee backed away from most of those cuts Thursday night.

In the House, Democrats had some misgivings about the Republican-controlled Appropriations Committee’s plan but also some praise.

“It’s a fairly good product,” said Rep. Jerry Henry, of Atchison, the panel’s ranking Democrat. “The vast majority of it will be in the final bill.”

In the GOP-dominated Senate, no Democrats supported the chamber’s plan. The Senate measure provides $134 million for poor districts. It offsets the cost by trimming aid for all school districts for online classes and transportation programs.

It also makes multiple policy changes favored by conservative Republicans, such as making it easier for administrators to fire teaches and blocking funding to implement the Common Core academic standards.

Brownback wouldn’t comment on most of the proposals.

Conservative Republicans have attacked the multistate Common Core reading and math standards since the State Board of Education adopted them in 2010. The measure GOP senators added to the funding plan would prevent the spending of tax dollars on implementing the standards through June 2017.

Opponents see the Common Core standards as akin to federal standards, because federal officials have encouraged their use. Critics also say the standards take control away from states and local districts, and would be costly to put into effect.

But the standards — adopted at least in part by most states — were an initiative of governors’ and education commissioners’ associations, and supporters say they’ll improve teaching nationwide.

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AP Political Writer John Hanna also contributed to this report.

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Online:

Information on the House schools plan: http://bit.ly/1efXz18

Information on Senate GOP schools plan: http://bit.ly/OgdqWy

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org .

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