Kansas Gov. to Veto Tax Hike That Would Pump More Money Into K-12

By Daarel Burnette II — June 06, 2017 2 min read
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Republican Gov. Sam Brownback threatened Tuesday morning to veto a tax hike bill that, in part, would provide schools with hundreds of millions more dollars to help satisfy a state supreme court ruling on school finance.

[UPDATED June 7, 10:00 a.m.: Since Tuesday, Brownback had followed through on his veto of the tax hike approved by state lawmakers, but proponents of the bill came up with enough votes to override the veto. The school funding formula revised under a separate bill and being funded by the tax hike will now have to pass muster with the state supreme court.]

Kansas’ legislature on Monday night passed two sweeping bills that would reverse a series of famous tax hikes and provide the state’s financially strained school districts with more than $293 million over the next two years.

The tax bill would raise $1.2 billion over two years by increasing income tax rates and ending an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners, according to the Associated Press. It would also provide more than $10 million in state scholarships for students in academically struggling schools to attend a school of their choice.

The tax bill would fund the new school funding formula bill, which is intended to more effectively distribute funding to close achievement gaps, an issue at the center of the long-running Gannon v. Kansas school finance case.

Because there aren’t enough votes in the legislature to override Brownback’s threatened veto, the legislature would likely have to go back to the drawing board on figuring out a way to satisfy an increasingly agitated supreme court before July 1. Brownback hasn’t said whether he would veto the school funding formula bill and it wasn’t clear whether the state would send an unfunded new funding formula to the court.

The court ruled earlier this year that the state’s school funding model short shrifted its academically struggling students by not providing enough resources to help them meet the most basic standards.

While the state’s educators and Democrats interpreted the ruling to mean that the state owes schools close to $400 million over the next two years, the state’s more-conservative legislators interpreted the ruling to mean that the legislature should more closely crack down on its academically wayward schools. That’s placed this year teacher tenure, academic standards, state takeover, and vouchers in the center of a years-long funding battle.

The state supreme court last year threatened to shut down the state’s public schools if the legislature didn’t come up with a funding formula that more equitably distributed funds between districts.

The most recent fight in Topeka took place in late-night meetings in the capitol’s chambers and involved a host of committees in both the Senate and House. Legislators were trying to craft both an education bill and a tax plan that would both satisfy the court and its fiscally conservative base—not an easy task in Kansas.

Brownback earlier this year vetoed a similar income tax hike that would’ve brought more than $1 billion to the state’s strained coffers.

The legislature this past week was trying to avoid going into special session. This year’s session was the longest in state history.

“It’s wrong to put our kids, schools and communities through that risk,” Sen. Lynn Rogers, a Wichita Democrat said of a potential school closing by the court.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.