Lawmakers collaborating to end the year in the black

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) – It’s set to be a busy week in the Kansas legislature as lawmakers set to hammer out a formula that determines how we fund our schools.

Lawmakers threw out an old finance formula that had been refined for years and put in place a stagnant amount of funding called a block grant. But now, they face putting in a new finance formula while still facing a big budget hole.

“I think after this initial rush of tax increases, I think legislators are starting to work together, it’s a much more collaborative mood up there in Topeka right now and we’re asking ourselves the question: What do we need? Not what do we want, what do special interests want, but what do we need in terms of the state of Kansas and the needs of Kansans,” Rep. Chuck Weber (R-Wichita) said.

It’s the hope of fiscal conservatives like Weber that state financing can be fixed with a mix of cutting spending. Additionally, he would like to see school spending tied into school achievement. Weber is also a proponent of school choice: letting the money follow the child.

After a court quarter to spend up to half a billion dollars more on schools, some democrats say they are pushing for a different approach on Monday in Topeka.

“We have to make a hard decision: Do we want to educate our children to compete in the 21st century? Or do we want to see our schools fall to the level of some adjoining states, where we have never provided children with the education that they need. I don’t believe Kansans want to live in that type of a state,” Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) said.

Regardless how it ultimately gets done, lawmakers are bound by law to end the year in the back. No debt is allowed. With the school funding debate expected to take center stage in Topeka this week, there will be challenges to go with different approaches.

“The real question we need to ask is now how many hundreds of millions of dollars do we need, but how do we help those students who are underachieving get back to where they need to be,” Rep. Weber said.

Carmichael called the budget situation “bare bones”, that there’s no money left in the bank and services have been cut to the point Kansans are no longer able to rely on the services they expect.

Stay tuned for updates on developments in legislature this week.

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