House Republicans have crafted a public school finance plan that would wipe out the final two years of funding put in place by last year's Legislature to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order.
Opponents say the bill in front of the House committee on school finance creates a minefield of policy problems that the high court is unlikely to accept.
If endorsed, the bill would force lawmakers back to the bargaining table in 2021 with more than $200 million previously earmarked for schools hanging in the balance.
Rep. Kristey Williams, a Republican from Augusta and chairwoman of the committee, said she believes schools will still get the money.
"We don't want to obligate future legislatures," Williams said, "but we do believe that each legislature would have it their aim to comply with the Supreme Court."
Lawmakers in 2018 made a last-minute deal to phase in a $525 million funding boost over the course of five years. The Supreme Court accepted the plan on the condition that lawmakers correctly account for inflation.
Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who supported last year's plan as a state senator from Topeka, introduced an education budget that adds $90 million per year for the inflation adjustment. A Senate committee has advanced a bill with the governor's funding figures, but attorneys for the schools that sued the state want a higher inflation number.
The Williams plan reflects the governor's funding levels but directs new money toward programs aimed at helping under-achieving students. The plan includes sweeping policy changes, including measures aimed at ensuring accountability and expansion of a mental health program.
The funding increases planned for 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years are eliminated, along with a provision that would add money based on the consumer price index in future years.
Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat who sits on the school finance committee, said the removal of two years of funding increases would take the state out of compliance with the Supreme Court. He said he would be surprised if the bill received enough support to pass the House.
"The bill itself is absolutely appalling policy," Ward said, "and it fails on all of our constitutional duties."
The House plan includes revisions to a controversial program that gives victims of bullying a taxpayer-funded path to private schools.
Under the program, school will have 30 days to investigate bullying claims brought by students. When a claim is substantiated, the student is eligible to convert a share of public school funding into a scholarship that can be used at private schools. The school also will give parents a course of action in case the student wants to remain.
Additionally, the bill would establish a bullying prevention task force.
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said he has worked to pass legislation establishing such a task force for 10 years. He said he gave Williams a copy of a plan he developed as a professional courtesy.
Witt said he wanted the task force to stand on its own rather than be included in the school finance package.
"Other agendas are being used to hijack the safety of kids in our public schools, and it really needs to come to an end," Witt said. "We could pass bullying prevention legislation right now, and it would go through both chambers."
Mark Desetti, who represents the Kansas-National Education Association, raised concerns about provisions in the school finance bill that he said would gut special education funding and require immigrant students to fully learn English within four years.
If the House plan were to pass, Desetti said, public schools will be closed in August.
"This bill is loaded with policy that is going to cause nightmares for the state to defend," Desetti said.