Brownback signs controversial school finance law

Measure includes bonding authority for new KU med school building

by KHI News Service

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback stopped in Kansas City, Kan., today to announce bonding authority to help fund the construction of a new University of Kansas Medical Center education building.
The bond approval was part of the controversial school finance bill the governor signed later in the day in Topeka at a Statehouse ceremony, flanked by House and Senate GOP leaders.
Lawmakers had approved the measure April 6.
KU officials said the bonds would help them raise $25 million of the $75 million needed to construct the new building intended to replace outdated facilities and adapt the KU medical school to newer teaching methods.
At a morning press conference at the KU Medical Center’s Kansas City, Kan., campus, Brownback said the new building, once completed, would allow the school to create 50 new slots for medical students between its campuses in Kansas City and Wichita.
Besides the bonding authority, KU officials had sought the Legislature’s approval to use about $24 million returned by the federal government for FICA overpayments made on behalf of KU medical residents. But lawmakers instead chose to direct that money to other programs.
Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s budget writing committee, said the law was written so that the bonds could be repaid by the university or with state general fund dollars. She said that “or” provision should make university officials nervous.
“I’m not sure they’re going to be able to issue these bonds,” she said. “I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable with no guarantee of state general fund payback. I think it’s mighty risky unless they do a heck of a fundraising drive.”
Early in the legislative session, a Senate committee endorsed giving KU $1.4 million a year for 15 years to help retire the bonds. But the first installment of that money wasn’t included in the final version of the 2015 budget bill.
“The way that it’s being spun right now is that we’re giving them (KU) $25 million in bonding authority to make up for the $24 million in FICA money that we stole from them, but the reality is we could just dump this right back on KU,” Kelly said.
At the Statehouse signing ceremony, Brownback praised GOP legislative leaders for getting the school funding bill passed as quickly as they did following a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s public school funding formula was unconstitutional because it created unequal opportunities for K-12 education.
The court gave lawmakers until July 1 to add money to the formula.
The bill Brownback signed into law narrowly passed and included provisions that essentially repeal a state law guaranteeing tenured teacher’s due process hearings before they can be removed from their jobs.
Brownback said local school districts could continue to offer due process hearings but it would now be their option.
“This bill returns control to the local school districts and communities,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican. “These reforms will benefit Kansas students. We have good schools in Kansas and this will make them even stronger.”
But Democrats and teacher representatives blasted House Bill 2506.
“Gov. Brownback would have Kansans believe that signing this bill is a great accomplishment,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat who works as a schoolteacher. “That’s not true. The reality is this bill barely passed both houses with no bipartisan support and strong opposition from our state’s education community. This was due to the bill’s radical changes in education policy. Historically, significant school finance bills have passed with bipartisan support and large majority votes.”
As the signing ceremony began Aaron Estabrook of Manhattan, founder of the Moderate Party of Kansas, quietly handed the governor a petition with signatures of more than 2,500 people opposed to the bill’s signing. Brownback thanked him and continued with the ceremony.
-KCUR reporter Alex Smith contributed to this story from Kansas City.

The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute. It is supported in part by a variety of underwriters. The News Service is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy-making environment. More about the News Service at or contact 785-233-5443.

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