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Kansas Lawmakers Mull Attaching Common-Core Repeal to Budget Bill

For the past two years, lawmakers in Kansas have considered legislation to repeal the Common Core State Standards. At the same time, they've dealt with one of the most severe state budget crises in the country. Now, those two issues could merge.

As the Associated Press reports, Sunflower State legislators are scrambling to fix a $600 million operating budget shortfall for fiscal 2016, which begins July 1. The state can't legally operate with such a shortfall, and so the paper reports that GOP lawmakers in control of the chamber are considering linking a common-core repeal bill to possible changes to K-12 spending, in an effort to smooth the path for such a repeal.

There's recent precedent in Kansas for attaching notable K-12 policy changes to a budget bill late in the day. Last year, as budget negotiations for fiscal 2015 reached their final hours, several significant policy changes were tacked onto the spending plan. They included a new, $10 million tax-credit scholarship program to increase school choice and the elimination of due-process rights for teachers. (The Kansas National Education Association subsequently sued to overturn the change to due-process rights, and that lawsuit is still making its way through the legal system.) A common-core repeal provision was included at one point in budget negotiations last year, but didn't make it to Gov. Sam Brownback's desk.

GOP Sen. Steve Abrams, who chairs the chamber's K-12 committee, which is currently considering the common-core repeal bill, went so far as to say that he's waiting until he gets the sense that the House of Representatives will pass the bill before trying to move it ahead in his committee, according to the AP. The repeal bill is similar to the legislation Oklahoma adopted last year—it would require Kansas to revert to its prior content standards. Those older standards would remain in place until July 2017, after which the state would implement new, homegrown standards. (The state adopted common core in 2010.)

What about school spending in Kansas? Brownback, a Republican, wants to cut general K-12 state aid by $28 million, ditch the state's current school spending formula, and replace it with block grants. In addition, Brownback and other Republicans are pushing districts to tap their reserve funds to stabilize their budgets. Brownback's administration estimates the statewide total of these district-level reserves at $381 million. 

Remember, there's a court fight over Kansas education spending looming in the background. Last March, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled school funding to be inequitable, but remanded a decision about the inadequacy of funding to a district court. At the end of 2014, that court said that Kansas K-12 aid fell short of the legal standard and suggested the equivalent of $548 million in additional annual state aid. Last month, the state announced it would appeal that ruling, and it will be considered by the state supreme court.

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