As the legislature has wrapped up regular session this week, several thorny issues have been finished, at least for now. The House and Senate introduced bills within the last week to address the school decision on equity and adequacy issues. The legislature has mostly finished work on the budget, but there may be a slight touch-up during the wrap-up.
Normally, the legislative session is divided into passing policy issues early in the session, and budgets later. A few years ago the legislature would pass three separate budget bills but those have been combined into one budget bill in recent times. This year, everything is being rolled into one bill that addresses policy and budget issues together. Since a two year budget was passed last year, the budget changes are not as great as in a normal year, but still need some adjustments.
The judicial funding bill has been in House and Senate conference, but so much has been changed it has been difficult for conferees to sort through all the changes and additions. Finding various docket fees to add, as well as a small amount of general funds would ensure courts stay open without furloughs. There are some misgivings on other policies regarding budgets within the courts but it may be the best we can do this year to keep courts open throughout the year.
The next thing that came along was the Supreme Court decision on schools. There was much give and take before a final draft of the education bill came to the House floor. The appropriations committee tried several provisions before finally settling on a bill that easily passed the full House. The Senate also struggled to find a combination that would pass their chamber.
In the end, there is the requirement to have 63 votes in the House and 21 votes in the Senate to send it to the Governor. Floor debate can be long, but by the end of the debate, the bill made only a few minor adjustments to the school funding formula. One of the more noticeable changes is to at-risk weighting. Removing this weighting would not allow weighted funding for part-time students and for students over age nineteen, unless the student has an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
This means transportation and high-density at-risk would remain as in current law. Virtual schools will be funded at 100% as opposed to 105% in the current law. School facilities weighting, which is money for furnishings in new buildings, would phase out beginning in 2015. The Local Option Budget (LOB) would move up to a maximum of 33%, with a ballot vote required over 30%. The higher LOB is mainly used in the Johnson County area. All this adds about $130M in money to the school finance formula.
The Senate managed to include in the bill removing due process procedures for teachers. Due process for teachers was added after a Supreme Court decision in 1957, so time will determine if removing that provision holds up to what will likely be a court challenge. Also included is a corporate scholarship program for lower income students. Up to $10M could be contributed to this program by businesses. Scholarship granting organizations would be initiated to administer the grant program. Since this program is new, some of the specifics are not well defined as to how scholarships are awarded.
We now have almost a month off. The break ends on April 30 when the legislature returns for veto/wrap-up session. Thankfully the heavy lifting will be done and we can expect the wrap-up to go quickly. I have appreciated very much the communication, especially regarding school and courts issues.