Laura Kelly signs Kansas education budget that 'fully funds' schools, but calls for more special ed money

Gov. Laura Kelly poses with a family after a tax cut bill signing ceremony earlier this month. On Monday, the governor signed the K-12 education budget.
Gov. Laura Kelly poses with a family after a tax cut bill signing ceremony earlier this month. On Monday, the governor signed the K-12 education budget.

Gov. Laura Kelly signed Monday over $6 billion in funding for K-12 education, despite concerns from public school advocates about a provision allowing students to transfer to any district in the state.

Kelly said in a statement that the budget in HB 2567 "fully funds" the state schools, while also calling on lawmakers to appropriate more money for special education.

"I am pleased to be able to uphold my commitment to fully fund our public schools," Kelly said. "Providing schools with the funding and resources they need will create lifelong learners, which are the foundation of our state’s strong workforce and future economic growth."

School administrators had pushed last month for an additional $155 million to bring the state's spending on special education to its statutorily-required funding levels. Kelly proposed a $30 million increase. The Republican-controlled Legislature rejected both proposals.

Kelly again called on lawmakers to increase special education funding when they return to Topeka next week.

"Republicans and Democrats agree funds for special education are vital for our schools to provide quality instruction to special education students," she said.

More: Is Kansas Legislature underfunding special education? Advocates say the state is falling far short

Legislators this year continued their strategy of packaging school funding with a host of other policy items, including a controversial open enrollment provision.

Under that language, districts would be required to determine a capacity level for each grade and school building.

If their student body was under that figure, they would be required to allow students from outside the district transfer in, with a lottery being held if demand outstripped the number of empty seats.

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Kelly said lawmakers should further review the school choice policy before it goes into effect.

"The Legislature must work with educators and administrators to make the necessary modifications to ensure that elected school board members maintain local control," Kelly said.

Republicans have framed the open enrollment provision as a way of holding districts accountable, arguing officials now will seek to prevent an exodus of students, along with the per-pupil funding they carry with them.

Democrats — as well as many school districts — have fretted the provision, which will now take effect in 2024, will flood schools with students from outside their area and instead districts should have flexibility in setting their own policies.

More education news: More flexibility to Kansas' high school graduation requirements could be around the corner

The funding bill ensures compliance with a series of Kansas Supreme Court rulings pushing the state to spend more on public education. Kelly said that signing the bill makes her "the first governor in more than 20 years to fulfill Kansas students' constitutional right to school funding."

Still, public schools were disappointed legislators did not include more funding to comply with statutory requirements on special education spending.

The bill also includes a provision requiring the Kansas State Department of Education partner with a firm to create an online math tutoring program, which they would recommend to all districts.

It is largely targeted at a Florida-based firm, Math Nation, and the $4 million cost could be covered by state dollars or federal COVID-19 relief funds.

And the legislation requires parental consent be obtained before a student can be administered a nonacademic test or survey, such as the Kansas Communities that Care survey, over objections from some Republicans over the questionnaire's contents.

Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at abahl@gannett.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas K-12 school budget passes, but some want more special ed money