Group of Kansas moms asks governor to veto bill they say neglects children with disabilities

TOPEKA — A group of Kansas mothers focused on the needs of children with complex medical needs and disabilities is calling on Gov. Laura Kelly to veto an education bill packaging more than a dozen policy and funding provisions.

The concerns of little lobbyists are twofold. Of primary concern is money allocated for special education services in Kansas. While the bill funds these services at the level agreed to by the state Supreme Court, the group argued the state failed to increase special education funding to cover the 92% of “excess costs,” about $155 million, mandated by Kansas law.

Those funds were not included in the bill, although the legislature attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to tack on $68 million for special education in March.

In the letter to the governor, Laura Robeson, who is part of Little Lobbyists along with four other moms of children with disabilities, said the shortfall forces school districts to reallocate money to make up for the lost special education funds.

“We see the impact on our children every day,” Robeson said. “For example, districts are unable to provide competitive para educators for special educator salaries. Districts may be forced to keep class sizes larger, and other programing may be cut, in order to meet the financial obligations Kansas has failed to meet.”

Recent revenue projections give Kansas more than a $3 billion surplus, and as such Robeson argues the state can afford to fund the excess costs. Some GOP legislators involved in the bill process have argued the state does meet the 92% threshold according to the “raw numbers” and that these concerns are overblown.

“The bill is about upholding our constitutional obligation, including upholding funding that is focused on student achievement,” said Rep. Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican and chairwoman of the House K-12 Budget Committee, during debate on the bill.

Kansas State Department of Education estimates suggest that without adjustment, special education would be funded at 76%. Based on those same calculations, Kansas has not reached 92% since 2010, at the close of the Montoy Kansas Supreme Court decision.

Kelly had 10 days to act on the bill after Friday when she received it. It is unclear whether the Democratic governor will veto the bill, which also fully funds public education according to the Gannon school finance settlement. Little lobbyists were hopeful Kelly would back up repeated budget requests for more special education funding.

The advocacy group was also concerned about a “school choice” provision enabling students to transfer to any public school regardless of where they live beginning in the 2024-25 school year. The measure is another in a series of bills allowing easier routes for students transferring to better-performing public schools and private institutions.

Robeson argued that while the policy appears neutral on the surface, open enrollment while special education funding falls short of the 92% mark could cause a downward spiral for these needed services.

For example, districts may find themselves with a disproportionate number of students needing special education services without reimbursement for those costs. Robeson said this could lead to children like her son Danny losing access to the general education classroom.

“Your veto will provide the legislature with an opportunity to strip policy that harms students and their districts, and to provide the statutory mandated funding for our children,” Robeson said. “This funding will allow all students to have the access they need to succeed. Our kids are worth the investment.”

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