Leaders of Kansas’ Republican-controlled Legislature have decided not to sue the state’s Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, for vetoing parts of a GOP education funding bill. While they still doubt the legality of her actions, they question whether a court challenge would be worth it. Kelly vetoed items in a $6bn measure that provides the bulk of the funding for public K-12 schools for the 2023-24 school year. The vetoes changed how state funds are distributed to protect rural schools, though the move helped a majority of the state’s 286 local districts and took funds away from only 25 of them.
Leaders of Kansas’ Republican-controlled Legislature have decided not to sue Democratic Governor Laura Kelly over her veto of parts of a GOP education funding bill. While they still question the legality of her actions, they have decided that a court challenge may not be worth it.
The bill in question provided $6 billion in funding for public K-12 schools for the 2023-24 school year. Governor Kelly vetoed items in the bill that changed how state funds are distributed to protect rural schools, but the move helped a majority of the state’s 286 local districts and only took funds away from 25 of them, According to a report from State Department of Education data.
Kelly did not veto the only school choice initiative that Republicans were able to pass this year, which expands an existing program for private school scholarships of up to $8,000 a year for low-income public school students. While public education groups opposed the initiative, some GOP conservatives had hoped to pass a more sweeping plan to use state education dollars to help parents pay for private or home schooling, similar to what states such as Iowa, South Carolina, and Utah have enacted.
Republican leaders argue that Governor Kelly exceeded the power granted to governors under the Kansas Constitution by vetoing individual spending items in budget bills. The education funding bill mixed spending with policy, and Kelly deleted six pages of language and made a technical adjustment at the end of the bill.
Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican, said in a press conference on Thursday that GOP leaders initially feared Kelly would veto more parts of the bill. “I don’t know that it’s worth the fight now,” Masterson said. “I don’t think we’re going to do anything with this one.”
When Governor Kelly announced her vetoes last week, Masterson and House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, called on GOP Attorney General Kris Kobach to review them, suggesting they were poised for a lawsuit.
Kelly’s vetoes rejected a GOP-backed change for local school districts with declining student numbers — more than half of them. The state distributes its dollars with a per-student formula, so funding drops as enrollments decline, but the state phases in the decrease over several years. The GOP change would have allowed less time for districts to adjust to a funding loss, and top Republicans contend the move would have helped growing districts. But Hawkins said…
While the legal battle between Kansas’ Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Governor Laura Kelly over the education funding bill may have been avoided for now, it highlights the ongoing political tensions between the two parties in the state. With the 2022 midterm elections approaching, the issue of education funding is likely to remain a contentious one.