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Governor's amendment for special education funding rejected

Posted Date: 04/21/2022

Governor's amendment for special education funding rejected

Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday proposed a $30 million increase for special education, but Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee shot it down. 

In a series of votes, GOP legislators rejected amendments by state Rep. Jarrod Ousley, D-Merriam, to increase special education funding by $155 million and then $68 million — both amounts had been recommended by the State Board of Education. Then the committee rejected Kelly’s budget amendment to provide a $30 million increase. That motion was made by Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, and chair of the House K-12 Education Budget Committee.  

The action came as the budget-writing committees met in preparation for the omnibus session that starts Monday. 

After legislators adjourned the first part of the session earlier this month, school districts and education advocates have pushed for additional special education funds, saying that K-12 increases required by the Gannon school finance settlement are increasingly being used to backfill underfunding of special education.  

Under state law, the state is supposed to fund special education at 92 percent of excess costs, but the current level is about 71 percent — its lowest level in a decade.  

But Williams questioned whether the 92 percent level was appropriate, and she said education funding levels are unsustainable. Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, implied the governor’s budget request was politically motivated. “It’s an election year,” Landwehr said.  

Ousley, however, argued the state can afford to increase special education to the statutory level because Kansas has a record $3.1 billion ending balance — a level that is one-third of the state general fund — in addition to a $500 million budget stabilization fund. 

In her budget amendment, Kelly said, “While this additional funding of $30 million will not make up for the entirety of the projected shortfall, it will aid school districts to reduce the gap in funding in FY 2033 only. I would like to work with KSDE and the Legislature to determine the current optimal funding for special education for use in future budgets.” 

The committee did approve Kelly’s budget amendment to add $11.1 million to school districts for KPERS contributions. The funds are needed because an earlier estimate was low.  

On a tax issue, schools will need $42.8 million to make up for lost revenue from an increase in the property tax exemption for the statewide 20 mil school levy that Kelly signed into law last week. That issue was sent to the K-12 conference committee. 

In the Senate Ways and Means Committee, members briefly debated taking up the Governor’s special education funding amendment as well as a proposal to increase the KPERS contribution to the school group in FY22 but ultimately opted to push those discussions to the conference committee next week.