- Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday vetoed parts of a $6 billion public education spending plan backed by the Sunflower State’s Republican-led Legislature.
- Kelly’s opposition to the bill was largely due to his taking issue with a provision he believed would cut funding for rural schools.
- “This provision pulls the rug out from rural school districts at the 11th hour,” Kelly said. “If the provision is enacted, it will bring dangerous and devastating consequences for our rural districts.”
Kansas’ Democratic governor on Thursday vetoed parts of a $6 billion Republican-backed funding plan for the state’s K-12 schools, setting up a likely legal battle that will test in the power of his office.
Gov. Laura Kelly, who won re-election in the conservative state in November, released a statement explaining her decision to take the unprecedented step of vetoing parts of the proposed education budget, saying she opposed a provision, in particular, which he claims to reduce. funding for rural public schools, which face declining enrollment.
“This provision pulls the rug out from rural school districts at the 11th hour,” Kelly said. “If the provision is enacted, it will bring dangerous and devastating consequences for our rural districts.”
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Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Dan Hawkins, leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature, quickly issued a joint statement criticizing Kelly, saying the state constitution limits line-item vetoes to appropriations. .
“We strongly encourage the Attorney General to immediately review this unconstitutionality,” they said.
The spending plan, which would provide a large portion of the money that relies on the state’s 286 school districts, would also expand a program aimed at providing private school scholarships for low-income families. Although Kelly opposed that provision, he did not veto it.
Kelly said that because the bill mixes up funding policy, the Kansas Constitution allows him to veto parts but not all of the bill, as it does the law that sets the state’s annual budgets. Top Republicans are likely to object and challenge the assertion in court.
The issue has never been tested legally, creating uncertainty about how much money school districts have and what policies they may face next academic year.
In his statement, Kelly said the GOP-backed bill would change the way districts count their enrollment, which determines their funding. Currently, districts are allowed to use one of two previous school years to determine how much money they will receive.
The new education bill requires districts to use the current or previous enrollment year to determine allocations. That provision would force districts with declining enrollments to immediately make changes to budgets they’ve already approved for the upcoming year, he said.
Kelly also noted that the Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the current method for determining enrollment, and he said changing the formula would raise questions about the state’s compliance with that law.
Education groups pushed Kelly to veto the bill even though it would increase total state aid to districts by about 4% for the next school year. The increases will vary by district, with 29 — most with fewer than 700 students — receiving less aid than they did this school year.
Kelly has signed education bills with a similar marriage of funding and policy in the past. But he and top Republicans have repeatedly clashed over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. GOP lawmakers pressured him to accept a reduction in the power of his office and local officials to close schools and businesses and impose mask mandates.
If Kelly vetoed the entire bill, he would have forced a special legislative session to ensure schools are funded for the next school year because lawmakers adjourned for the year. If he loses a court battle over his veto of parts of the bill, it’s unclear whether the entire bill will become law or if it will die altogether.
Educators were also upset that GOP lawmakers rejected Kelly’s proposal to share a 70% increase in funding for programs for students with physical or intellectual disabilities, or behavioral problems. . It would have required an extra $72 million in the next state budget, but lawmakers approved only $7.5 million.
Kelly said she was disappointed that lawmakers did not increase funding for special education and that they need to “correct their mistake” when they return for next year’s session.
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In a statement Thursday, the Kansas Association of School Boards praised Kelly’s line-item veto and also expressed frustration with lawmakers’ “inadequate response” to special education funding at a time when the state has a record surplus in the budget.
And educators opposed provisions that would have expanded the income tax credit program for donors to funds that provide annual private school scholarships of up to $8,000 annually to students from low-income families. the income. Although total credits will remain limited to $10 million a year, more students will be eligible for scholarships.
Kelly said most Kansans do not support such policies, and he chastised lawmakers for “cramming” them into the education funding bill instead of proposing them as separate bills. .
Conservative Republicans want to pass a broader plan that would use state education dollars to help parents pay for private or home schooling for their children, something GOP lawmakers have endorsed. in other states, including Iowa, South Carolina and Utah.
Kelly strongly opposes the idea, saying public funds should go to public schools. Republican lawmakers are divided.
The state constitution says that if any bill “contains certain items of appropriation,” the governor may veto one or more “such items” while signing others.
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While lawmakers often set budget policy with provisions that dictate how the money should be spent or prohibit certain expenditures, those provisions are only valid for one year. In the past, it’s been rare for lawmakers to mix spending with measures to rewrite state laws permanently, so governors haven’t taken actions like Kelly’s.