Kansas school finance bill, passed without ‘poison pill,’ on its way to governor

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TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers have sent a bipartisan school finance bill that will shape state education funding for the next three years to the governor’s desk, packaging a $75 million increase in special education funding into the bill. 

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 387 out of the House by a 115-2 vote and out of the Senate by 35-2 on Friday. Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, one of the chief lawmakers tasked with crafting education policy, stressed the importance of funding public schools in a Friday discussion of the bill. 

“Outcomes really do matter,” Williams said. “Making sure we support our public schools really does matter.”

The bill marked a welcome turnaround for Kansas public school advocates, who warned that previous versions of the bill could have left special education in the state “permanently underfunded” due to changes in the special education funding formula that would have counted local option budget funds, which use local taxpayer revenue to bolster district budgets, as part of the state’s mandated funding for special education. 

An earlier iteration of the bill containing this change, which was criticized by public education advocacy groups Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas National Educators Association, passed the House on a 65-58 vote but failed in the Senate in a 12-26 late night vote April 5, with lawmakers citing the special education provision in their opposition

The Legislature adjourned for its scheduled three-week break without voting on the newest compromise piece. 

That bill passed out Friday, after the Legislature returned, still contains several LOB provisions, such as mandating districts transfer LOB funds allocated for special education into the districts’ special education fund and use these funds specifically for that purpose, but it will not count those funds as part of the state’s mandated special education aid. 

“I want to thank you for rejecting the other versions because this version, as the chairperson described, addresses the funding that is fair and impacts all school districts,” said Kansas City Democrat Rep. Valdenia Winn Friday. She added: “What was removed was the poison pill.” 

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, emphasized oversight of the $75 million special education increase. Baumgardner said legislators will put a provision in the omnibus budget directing “explicitly how that money will be distributed.”

“The last thing we want to serve our kids, to serve our teachers and those families with special ed children, is to have $75 million sitting there and not being used,” Baumgardner said. 

Among other budget provisions, in fiscal year 2025 the bill sets aside $65.5 million for special education services aid, $2.5 million for school food assistance, $29.6 million for state foundation aid and $2 million for a virtual math education program.

In fiscal year 2026, $3 billion is set aside for state foundation aid, along with $601.8 million for supplemental state aid and $601 million for special education state aid. 

The bill would also establish a task force to review the current school finance system, academic reporting and achievement goals. The task force would provide recommendations to the governor and the Legislature by January 2027 to establish a new school finance formula, after the current funding formula expires July 1, 2027.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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