Dodge City Rep. Bud Estes knew something had to change during Friday’s second day of the Kansas Legislature special session on school funding.
"The first plan went through, but there was the matter of $13 million," he said on Monday. "There were people who didn’t like the idea of taking money from education to fund education."
So, both the House and Senate returned bills back to committees. Eventually that $13 million was achieved by taking the funds of an expected sale of assets of a state economic development agency to private investors.
The remaining funding of the $38 million more dedicated to schools came from motor vehicle fees and dips into the state’s share of a national legal settlement with tobacco companies in the 1990s.
The votes were 116-6 in the House and 38-1 in the Senate, sending the measure to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who told reporters he would sign it. The GOP-dominated Legislature met for two days in a special session forced by a state Supreme Court ruling on education funding last month.
Lawmakers struggled with how to pay for a $38 million increase in aid to poor school districts for 2016-17 — in a dispute that ultimately focused on less than 1 percent of what the state already spends. Brownback said lawmakers did "a fantastic job."
"When I called the special session, my effort was focused on making sure that we could get something to pass that would satisfy the court and keep them from closing the schools down," he said. "That will happen."
Estes said the only opposing votes came from those whose school districts were losing money.
Kansas is embroiled in a lawsuit filed by four school districts, and legislators were fashioning a one-year funding fix ahead of a potentially more contentious legal and political battle over schools next year. The immediate issue was complying with the Supreme Court’s mandate to make the distribution of state aid fairer to poor school districts.
"I think that solves the problem," said John Robb, an attorney for four school districts — including Dodge City — suing the state over education funding. "We should be able to put that chapter behind us."
With Kansas facing an ongoing budget crunch, lawmakers avoided increasing overall state spending by diverting money from other corners of state government to schools. The Republican plan approved by lawmakers relies less on reshuffling of existing education funds than a previous GOP plan.
The plan had endorsements from school districts that both stood to gain and lose some aid. Robb said they and the state expect to send a joint statement to the court that its order had been satisfied.
"Everybody ought to be just warm and fuzzy about it," said House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican.
Montezuma Sen. Garrett Love said he thought the solution was good and probably the only one that would have worked.
"It was important for us to keep schools open," Love said. "I think it was wise to make sure we got a plan everyone could agree with and passed the mandate of the courts."
GOP leaders’ first plan cleared committees in both chambers Thursday. But dissention among Republicans forced Merrick to send the plan back to committee for a rewrite.
A sense of urgency came from the Supreme Court’s warning in its recent ruling that schools might not be able to reopen after June 30 if lawmakers didn’t make further changes. Many have programs, serve meals to poor children and provide services to special education students during the summer.
The state has been in and out of legal battles over education funding for decades, and the latest round began with a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts. Kansas spends more than $4 billion a year on aid to its schools.
The Supreme Court ruled last month that the education funding system remains unfair to poor schools, despite three rounds of changes over the past three years.
The court is considering separately whether Kansas spends enough overall on its schools — and could rule by early next year. Brownback and GOP legislative leaders already have committed to overhauling the education funding system next year.
"I’m glad I’m not going to be involved with that debate," Love admitted. "However, I’m sure someone will bring up consolidation again.
"I know there are too many (opposed to consolidation) in the Legislature to allow for that, but there are always some officials who look at the numbers and think (consolidation is) the answer."
The state’s fiscal woes complicated education funding issues. Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since GOP lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging to stimulate the economy. State tax collections have fallen short of expectations 10 of the 12 past months, something the governor blames on slumps in agriculture, energy production and aircraft manufacturing.
Legislative researchers said 77 of the state's 286 districts would lose some aid; 169 would gain; and 40 would see no change. Under GOP leaders’ first plan, 141 districts would have lost some aid.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.