Capitol Update: With no funding formula, school districts ‘struggling to negotiate contracts for next year without knowing what they have to negotiate with’

first_imgMelissa Rooker at a community forum in March.Each legislative session, we provide northeast Johnson County’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Melissa Rooker submits this week’s update:Greetings from Topeka! Today is Day 91 of the 2017 session. Prior to the start of the 2017 legislative session, the Legislative Coordinating Council voted to budget for 100 days, so we officially have nine days left in the anticipated schedule.We are making significant progress in the House K-12 Budget Committee negotiating a school finance formula. The tax committees continue to work on finding the right mix of tax reforms to pass both House and Senate. The budget committees in both chambers have tentative budgets but await the results of our school finance and tax debates before putting the finishing touches on the two-year budget. I know it may seem like we have not gotten much done, but given the magnitude of the projects and the difficulty of finding 84 votes in the House and 27 votes in the Senate to override the one vote of the governor, we are closing in on some viable solutions.The key to all other issues is finalizing the school finance formula. The past two weeks have been the most intense of my five-year legislative career. Our committee is sharply divided on several issues but we have managed to negotiate a well-constructed plan. I look forward to completing our committee work as soon as today so we can begin to work with the rest of our colleagues towards passage of a final formula.Time is of the essence with regard to school finance. Districts statewide are struggling to negotiate contracts for next year without knowing what they have to negotiate with. While it is not necessarily unusual for spring contract negotiations to commence without a final state budget, it is unprecedented to do so without even a funding mechanism in place.Certain steps in the legislative process require specific timelines. The committee must pass a bill and then it is read into the House record before we can debate it. Once the House passes a bill, it must be read into the Senate record, then considered and passed out of the Senate committee before the full Senate can debate. If the Senate committee or the full Senate does not make changes to the bill as it passed out of the House (highly unlikely) it can go straight to the governor for his consideration. However if changes are made in the Senate, a conference committee must meet to negotiate a compromise plan. Both chambers then must pass the compromise bill in order to send it on to the governor. He has 10 days to sign it into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature.While we have a deadline from the court of June 30, court proceedings themselves require time to unfold. I do not have all the details of the court procedures involved, but I do know it takes time for the state and the plaintiffs to present arguments to support their positions on the final bill. While we managed to work out an agreement in Special Session last summer in which both parties signed an agreement that the solution was acceptable to them, I doubt that will happen this time. Court watchers estimate at least five weeks for court proceedings to unfold. As of today, there are seven weeks until June 30.By mid-to-late June, districts will begin to take steps to plan for an orderly shutdown of buildings so complex computer equipment, HVAC and other mechanical systems are not damaged. Employees face potential lay offs, while students and their families face extraordinary uncertainty about schedules and programs they count on. The most alarming aspect of a potential shutdown is the immediate effect on summer programs. Last summer, Kansas school districts served 1.3 million summer meals to students who qualify for free lunch. The food service is part of the federal school lunch program, but it takes open buildings and available staff to serve the meals. Without an approved formula this program is in jeopardy.I share this in order to give context to the work ahead. It will require statesmanship and compromise. Democrats have 40 House members and nine Senators. Republicans are divided into factions and none have controlling numbers. The time has come to find ways to build consensus. No single faction has the veto-proof majority to get all that they want. My focus is on the mechanics of a school finance formula that ensures a constitutional and appropriate method of distributing money to our school districts on July 1. Without that, we will not have the authority to distribute even $1 to schools.Compromise means “to settle a dispute through mutual concessions.” Consensus means “general agreement.” I promise to work in good faith to support legislation that represents a constitutional school finance formula, a sufficient revenue package to stabilize state finances and fund our schools, and a balanced budget. Working together, I am confident we CAN do this!last_img

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