Republican leaders in Kansas have decided not to sue Democratic Governor Laura Kelly for vetoing parts of a Republican education funding bill. The governor vetoed items in a $6bn measure, which provides most of the funding for public K-12 schools in the 2023-24 school year, changing how state funds are distributed to protect rural schools. However, the change helped most of the state’s 286 local districts and took funds from only 25 of them, As seen on the State Department of Education. Kelly also did not touch the only school choice initiative that divided Republicans, which expanded an existing programme for private school scholarships for low-income public school students.
Republican leaders in Kansas’ Legislature have decided not to sue the state’s Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, for vetoing parts of a GOP education funding bill. Although they still question the legality of her actions, they now doubt whether a court challenge would be worth the effort.
The $6 billion measure that Kelly vetoed provides most of the funding for public K-12 schools in Kansas for the 2023-24 school year. The governor’s vetoes changed the way state funds are distributed to protect rural schools. However, the move helped a majority of the state’s 286 local districts and took funds away from only 25 of them, As seen on State Department of Education data.
Kelly did not touch the only school choice initiative that divided Republicans were able to pass this year, which expanded an existing program for private school scholarships of up to $8,000 a year for low-income public school students. While public education groups strongly opposed it, some GOP conservatives had hoped to pass a sweeping plan to use state education dollars to help parents pay for private or home schooling, like states such as Iowa, South Carolina, and Utah have done.
Republican leaders argue that Kelly exceeded the power granted to governors under the Kansas Constitution to veto 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 that GOP leaders initially feared the governor 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 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 actions rejected a GOP-backed change for local school districts with declining student numbers, which is 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 that he was pleased that the governor had left the school choice initiative intact.
The decision not to sue Kelly is a relief for the governor, who has already vetoed a number of bills from the Republican-controlled Legislature this year. Those bills included measures that would have restricted her power to shut down businesses during a pandemic, allowed concealed carry without a permit, and limited the amount of time that transgender students could participate in girls’ or women’s sports.
The dispute over the education funding bill highlights the ongoing tension between Republicans and Democrats in Kansas, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans have argued that Kelly has overstepped her authority in response to the pandemic, while Democrats have accused the GOP of trying to limit the governor’s ability to protect public health.
As Kansas lawmakers prepare for the next legislative session, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to find common ground on issues like education funding and pandemic response.