Copyright 2014

Kansas lawmakers begin session facing budget shortfall for second year in a row

Hensley, a public school teacher, said not developing a new formula this year "does a disservice to local school districts to keep them in the lurch." He questioned whether majority Republicans have the political will to pass a formula.

Other lawmakers are more optimistic. "We were elected to work every year we're in session," Ryckman said.

He would like to pass a preliminary school finance bill this year, then tweak it next session if necessary based on feedback from school districts, before it goes into effect for the 2018 fiscal year.

He acknowledged that it will be difficult to pass school finance legislation this year but said lawmakers should try to make progress.

Another possibility would be to create a pilot program for a small group of districts before it's implemented statewide.

'Let's do it'

Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, who chairs the House Education Committee, similarly wants work toward passing something this session.

"I'm hearing from legislators and (House) leadership, 'Let's do it,'" said Highland. "... You can never say for sure, but personally I would like to see a school finance formula to vote on (this year)."

Highland was the primary author of a draft report on school funding that asserted districts aren't doing enough to ensure taxpayer money is used efficiently. The draft, tabled by a special committee last week, recommended a number of changes, including limits on school districts issuing bonds, privatizing school district functions and implementing bulk purchasing for districts to save costs.

Lawmakers plan to vote on an updated version of the report sometime during the session.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, said the purpose of the two-year block grant bill "was to take two years to derive a new school finance formula."

"To me that's a good thing. We should take time, get input from all interested parties, consider our options and weigh them before moving forward," King said. "And so I certainly think there will be school finance discussions in the Legislature this year. I don't think there will be a final formula. Because again, I think it's a two-year process."

Waiting until after the election offers lawmakers a chance to talk to voters on the campaign trail about what they want out of a school finance formula before they pass a final bill, King said.

Mark Desetti, legislative director of the Kansas National Education Association, doubted that lawmakers will take action on school finance this year - especially after last year's marathon session.

"There seems to be a desire to just patch things together to get out of the current fiscal mess and get on with their campaigns," Desetti said. "So I have a feeling that they will do as little as possible this year. They'll do what they need to do to get out in a timely fashion. ... 'Let's just do some damage control and move on.'"