April 13, 2014
HB 2506: Funding & Due Process
It has been a week since Kansas HB 2506 on school funding has passed; it has yet to be signed by the governor, but Gov. Brownback has given every indication he will sign it. The bill as prompt by a KS Supreme Court ruling on March 7, which declared that the state’s budget unconstitutional in regards to the equity of funding of schools; the court also referred the portion of the lawsuit challenging whether the entire system is adequately funded back to a lower court. School funding, which had already fallen because of the 2008 drop in property value-driven revenue, has taken dramatic cuts since Gov. Brownback rolled out an extensive tax cut plan in 2012.
HB 2506 does restore $129 million dollars of funding to the schools, although much of that amount will go into tax relief for local budgets in poorer school districts rather than into the schools themselves. Receiving more attention than the funding, however, have been the provisions attached to the bill, literally in the dead of night (3a.m. on Sunday, April 6). These provisions include:
- The elimination of due process for teachers
- The creation of income tax credits for donations to private schools to support scholarships
- The relaxation of teacher licensing laws.
Of particular concern to Kansas Legislature watchers was the lack of debate concerning these issues prior to their last-minute inclusion in the final bill. While school boards had asked for more latitude in firing tenured teachers, the broad elimination of due process was both more than they had requested and an issue that received no public debate or discussion prior to the weekend of April 6th. Likewise, a proposal about the use of public tax dollars to encourage the creation of private school scholarships—schools free of many of the regulations and oversight put upon public schools—had been raised in committee, but had not advanced any further or been widely discussed. Likewise, although the relaxation of teaching licensure comes up from time to time (it can be especially hard to find licensed teachers for some disciplines in rural communities in particular), there had been no groundswell of support for any of the measures that would indicate they might be tacked on at the last moment.
The motivation for the non-funding add-ons of the funding bill is political, but all theories on the ultimate goals of these elements of the bill are speculative: many hold that the conservative portion of the Kansas legislature took advantage of the need to pass the bill by the end of the session to throw in a few last-minute items from a undisclosed wish list; others speculate conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity are looking to take this fight to the next level.