Partisan Divide Dominates State’s School Finance Debate

The Kansas Senate’s top Democrat says lawmakers should pass a new education funding law this year.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said Thursday that legislators should work with school superintendents on a new formula for distributing more than $4 billion in state aid to the state’s 286 school districts.

Republicans who control the Legislature last year dumped the state’s old, per-pupil formula in favor of “block grants” for districts. They meant the new law to be temporary and set it to expire in July 2017.

Democrats had a Statehouse news conference to discuss their vision for this year’s legislative session, stressing their support for public schools and retaining teachers without offering specifics.

Republicans are divided over whether lawmakers should try to pass a new school funding law this year.

Sam Brownback is defending his support for using a new school funding formula to encourage local districts to enact merit pay systems for teachers.

The Republican governor responded to comments Thursday from Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley who is a teacher and said he opposes merit pay because merit pay systems are marked by favoritism. He also said legislators should focus on issues that unite educators when they draft a new law for distributing money to districts.

Brownback said Hensley is dismissing merit pay too quickly. He said lawmakers should hold hearings on merit pay systems and learn where they’ve worked.

Lawmakers aren’t sure how far they’ll get this year in drafting a new school funding law.