Gov. Sam Brownback proposed on Tuesday evening that Kansas phase in an additional $600 million increase in spending on public schools over five years, in hopes of meeting a court mandate, without telling legislators how he would pay for it.
The governor outlined the proposal in his eighth and final State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature Tuesday evening.
Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park said they do not think the state can sustain the spending Brownback is proposing.
Brownback tied the extra money to goals of raising teacher salaries, increasing the number of school counselors and psychologists and offering high school students courses that earn them college credit.
He told lawmakers in his speech that the proposal does not include a tax increase.
Wagle called it a feel-good proposal that will force lawmakers to consider tax increases later. Denning said the plan is “insulting.”
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state’s total aid of about $4.3 billion a year to its 286 school districts is not sufficient to meet a duty under the state constitution to provide a suitable education for every child. The court mandated more spending even though lawmakers phased in a $293 million increase over two years during last year’s legislative session.
The Kansas Supreme Court didn’t set a specific spending target but hinted in its decision that spending must rise by as much as $650 million a year. It told lawmakers that a new school funding law must be in place before July 1, and it expressed a growing impatience with delays in boosting spending.
Many lawmakers were frustrated by the court’s ruling because bipartisan majorities raised income taxes last year by roughly $600 million per year to help balance the budget while providing extra money for schools.
Top GOP leaders have little appetite for raising taxes again. Nor for making deep cuts elsewhere in the budget to shift money to schools. Many legislators are skeptical that school funding can rise significantly without either step.
Lawmakers have been debating whether the court would accept a law that phases in an increase in school funding over several years.
Brownback is expected to outline the details of his school funding proposal in budget recommendations released to lawmakers on Wednesday.
The governor said he was proposing goals along with the funding because, “The people of Kansas expect results. Money, by itself, will not solve the problem.”
Brownback is term-limited after winning re-election in 2014, and President Donald Trump has nominated him to serve as U.S. Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom.
The governor gained national attention for a first-term experiment in aggressive income tax-cutting and saw his popularity wane as the state experienced persistent budget shortages. Voters in 2016 turned on his legislative allies, electing enough Democrats and Republican moderates to roll back some of his tax cuts.
In the Democratic response, prepared before the speech, House Minority Leader Jim Ward of Wichita who is running for governor this year said funding schools “fairly and sufficiently” is the most important issue facing lawmakers. He also praised the bipartisan majorities that raised taxes last year over Brownback’s veto.
The tax increase approved last year rolled back most of the past income tax cuts championed by the governor in 2012 and 2013. Since the increases were passed, state tax collections have exceeded expectations each of the past seven months after falling short of projections for the better part of two years prior to that.
Brownback and his aides had not expected him to be giving this year’s address after Trump nominated him for the ambassadorship in July last year. They had expected the U.S. Senate to confirm Brownback’s appointment in the fall, triggering his resignation and elevating Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to governor.
However, the Senate failed to vote on Brownback’s nomination by the end of last year, requiring Trump to re-nominate him.