Kansas Legislature Approves $534 Million Tax Increase
Amid teacher protests and a looming supreme court deadline, Kansas' legislature over the weekend approved a $534 million increase in school funding over the next five years.
Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer endorsed the deal and is expected to sign it into law in the coming weeks.
Now the state's supreme court will have to decide if that amount of money is enough for the state's school system to provide an "adequate" education, as the state's constitution mandates. The court gave the state until the end of April or risk having the state's school system shut down.
A study commissioned by the state's legislature earlier this year predicted that the state would have to come up with between $1.7 billion and $2 billion over the next five years in order to provide an adequate education. The study concluded that $400 million would merely maintain current achievement levels, while increasing the high school graduation rate. A quarter of the state's students today does not meet the state's standards.
Meanwhile, the Kansas legislature is considering whether to make an amendment to their constitution in order to ban the state's court system from dictating how much money the state's school system deserves.
Kansas may have benefited from the many teacher protests occurring in Arizona, Oklahoma and West Virginia. In a mid-term election year, even traditionally conservative voters have grown sympathetic to the teachers who have complained of low pay and years of budget cuts for local school systems.
Teachers in Kansas staged a two-day sit in this past weekend to urge the legislature to pass the $534 million increase.
"It is certainly the best bill we've seen," Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association told the Associated Press.
The state's most conservative legislators left the court feeling frustrated. The state would be able to afford the tax increase, they said, if tax revenue continued climbing at its current rate in the coming years. But many legislators predicted that, if revenue doesn't continue to climb, within two years the state would have to raise taxes in order to afford the increase for public schools.
"We haven't had the collective backbone to stand our ground," said Republican House member Randy Powell said to the Associated Press.