Governor Kelly line-item vetoes portion of SB 113
After the USD No. 113 Prairie Hills Board of Education voted 5-2 in February to close Wetmore Academic Center, the Wetmore Community Action Association (WCAA) decided to take action at the State level.
Just a few days after the vote, the WCAA went to the Kansas State Legislature to discuss Wetmore’s closure, and to discuss laws and policies regarding school closures. One bill the WCAA has been strong proponents of is Senate Bill 113 or House Substitute for SB113 (SB 113), which is a school funding appropriations bill, as well as a policy bill.
According to Kansas law, school districts are allowed to use the enrollment numbers from one of the previous two years (whichever is higher) in order to receive state funding for students in the district. The WCAA has been advocating for a change in this policy due to the majority — if not all — of Wetmore’s students planning to attend other school districts next year, in hopes that the money will follow their students, and not stay in USD No. 113.
The Kansas House of Representatives and the Kansas Senate listened to WCAA’s perspective — as well as a few other proponents whose schools were recently closed — and voted 83-37 and 23-16, respectively, to approve changing the school finance formula. Thus, allowing school districts, that have closed a building, to only use the current year’s enrollment numbers for funding. Schools that have not closed a building would have had the option to use current year or previous year enrollment.
With the omnibus bill approved by the Kansas House of Representatives and the Kansas Senate, it was submitted to Governor Laura Kelly on Monday, May 8, for her review.
On Thursday, May 18, Governor Kelly’s office announced that she approved SB 113, however, she “line-item vetoed provisions stripping funding from rural schools.” The portion she vetoed is the provision which the WCAA has been advocating for.
According to Kansas State Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Craig Neuenswander, approximately 100 districts out of 287 would have been negatively impacted by this funding change.
Approved with line-item veto
Below is Governor Kelly’s statement regarding SB 113:
Governor Laura Kelly announced that she has signed and line-item vetoed aspects of House Substitute for Senate Bill 113, the bill containing the budget for K-12 education. With her line-item vetoes, the bill fully funds K-12 education for the fifth consecutive year and protects funding for rural schools facing declining enrollment.
“Today, I am keeping my commitment to Kansas families by fully funding our public schools for the fifth year in a row,” Governor Kelly said. “What’s more, I am proud to stand up for rural schools, the heart and economic engines of communities throughout the state, by rejecting efforts to cut the funding needed to keep them open and continuing to serve Kansas students.”
In addition to funding schools in accordance with the state constitution, the version of SB 113 Governor Kelly signed also:
Improves School Safety: The bill includes $5 million so schools can purchase communication equipment to better coordinate with law enforcement and purchase naloxone to combat fentanyl poisoning, something Governor Kelly called for in her 2023 State of the State address.
Empowers Parents to Be Involved in their Children’s Education: The bill includes $9.4 million for Parents as Teachers, a program that provides parents with skills and knowledge about child health and development and connects them to community-based services to assist with their child’s education.
Supports the Teacher Workforce: The bill includes $1.8 million to support teacher professional development and $1.3 million for a program that provides teachers early in their careers with mentors to support their professional growth.
Invests in Early Childhood Education and Literacy: The bill includes $23.7 million from the Children’s Initiative Fund for the Early Childhood Block Grant to support children’s programs with a focus on early childhood, health, mental health and child welfare. It includes $4.2 million for a Pre-K Pilot Program to explore ways more Kansas schools can prepare children for kindergarten, as well as $1.4 million for IT and data management in the early childhood space. It also includes $1.5 million to expand the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a program that gifts books to children from birth to five years old for free.
Gives Students the Technical Skills for a Modern Economy: The bill includes $1.5 million to transport students to career and technical education opportunities, $1 million to ensure more students learn computer science, and $40,000 for a pilot program expanding the ways students can receive career and technical education credentials.
While SB 113 includes a $7.5 million increase in funding for special education, it does not include the $72 million Governor Kelly has called for throughout the legislative session to put Kansas on the path to fully fund special education.
“Republicans and Democrats agree we must put Kansas on track to fully fund special education, something that would impact each and every student. When legislators return in 2024, they must correct their mistake and fulfill my plan to increase investments in special education,” Governor Kelly said.
Critically, Governor Kelly line-item vetoed appropriations in SB 113 that would have changed the school finance formula that determines the amount of funding annually appropriated by the state to public schools. The provision would have risked the state’s compliance with constitutional funding requirements and could have resulted in rural schools having to cut services or close buildings. The legislative debate on SB 113 recognized this bill contains items of appropriations of money, and the Governor has the constitutional power to line-item veto such appropriations.
Below are a few key points from Governor Kelly’s statement regarding the vetoed portion of SB 113:
• “The process by which SB 113 was passed also raises concerns. The Legislature continues a pattern of bundling appropriations and policy provisions into one bill, limiting the ability for the public and their elected representatives to weigh in on each individual element of legislation. The appropriations for our public school system belong with the remainder of the state’s budget and should be evaluated through the normal appropriations process. Instead, the Legislature has decided to ‘logroll’ unpopular provisions into this bill-provisions that would not withstand scrutiny or pass muster on their own. The Legislature included provisions in this bill that never received a public hearing, were never worked by a legislative committee, nor passed through even one chamber of the Legislature prior to being included in this bill. This process lacks public transparency and prevents the collaboration that could prevent unintended consequences of hastily crafted legislation.”
• “The current school finance formula was approved by the Kansas Supreme Court in the Gannon case. Changes to this formula run the risk of noncompliance and jeopardize our track record of constitutionally funding schools. SB 113 specifically changes the method by which school districts must determine their enrollment and thus the amount of funding appropriated by the state. Under current law, school districts may use the enrollment of one of the two preceding years to determine the level of state aid they are subject to receive. This essential element of our finance formula was crafted to ensure that districts with declining enrollment, especially rural districts, can properly account for this decline and make financial plans to ensure their own sustainability. SB 113 changes the formula so that districts must use the current year or the previous year’s enrollment when determining state aid.”
• “For districts experiencing declining enrollment, this change precipitates immediate funding adjustments that districts would be required to make in the upcoming school year rather than over the next few years as is dictated by current law. This provision would be enacted after many school districts have finalized their budget and signed contracts with teachers based on existing appropriations. These districts are already preparing for the budget impacts of declining enrollment, but the decision to rapidly speed up the fiscal effect of declining enrollment leaves districts in an untenable situation where they must significantly cut budgets in a matter of weeks. These districts have been operating in good faith and within the bounds of current law when determining their budgets and enrollment for the upcoming school year. This provision pulls the rug out from underneath rural school districts at the 11th hour. If this provision were enacted, it would bring dangerous and devastating consequences for our rural districts.”
• “In addition, the current method for determining enrollment was approved by the Kansas Supreme Court in the Gannon case; changing one of the primary building blocks of the school finance formula in Gannon would raise questions over the state’s compliance with the case. Therefore, I have chosen to line-item veto Section 14 of SB 113. Throughout the legislative debate over this bill, SB 113 was categorized as an appropriations bill. During the House debate, a legislator moved to amend the finance formula provisions of the bill, which was ruled a violation of the chamber rules because the net effect of the amendment would have caused a change to the appropriations in the state foundation aid line-item. That appropriation would have very real consequences for our schools, as the finance formula operationally determines the amount of state funds appropriated to school districts through the proper budget line-items.”