TOPEKA, Kan. (KAKE) - Kansas Governor Laura Kelly announced Thursday that she has signed a bill to fund public schools for the next year while rejecting a provision that would have cut funding to rural districts. 

A release from the governor's office said that with her line-item vetoes, the bill fully funds K-12 education and protects funding for rural schools facing declining enrollment.  

“Today, I am keeping my commitment to Kansas families by fully funding our public schools for the fifth year in a row,” Gov. Kelly said. “What’s more, I am proud to stand up for rural schools, the heart and economic engines of communities throughout the state, by rejecting efforts to cut the funding needed to keep them open and continuing to serve Kansas students.”

The veto was a relief for Fowler superintendent Jamie Wetig. His district stood to lose are half a million dollars with the change enrollment funding. "I think that public schools have always been under the microscope with the state legislature."

Wetig says the district has had declining enrollment over the last 7 years and is working on an agreement to keep its schools open, specifically the K-6, and either merge with or transfer the building to the Meade school district.

"We want this to be a community elementary school, K-6, and that would, that includes being merged with Meade, whether it's a long term agreement, a consolidation or transfer territory.”

Wetig says he wasn't sure why the legislature put in the change. Around 100 schools would have lost funding, many of them rural. “When you close a school in a small rural community, you don't just close the school building, but you're closing that town down as well. And so these legislators need to understand that what they're doing is going to hurt the people in the communities that support them the most.”

Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Dan Hawkins issued the following joint statement in response:

"The Legislative K-12 Education budget is an overall win for Kansas students and their education with a record amount of funding to K-12 public schools, full constitutional special education funding, and an expansion to a scholarship program for low-income students.

"We are extremely concerned, however, that with the Kelly/Toland administration’s decision to line-item veto policy provisions within SB 113, the administration exceeded their authority under the Kansas Constitution, which limits line-item vetoes to items of appropriations. We strongly encourage the Attorney General to immediately review this unconstitutional overreach.”

According to Kelly's release, the version of SB 113 she signed also:

  • Improves School Safety: The bill includes $5 million so schools can purchase communication equipment to better coordinate with law enforcement and purchase naloxone to combat fentanyl poisoning, something Governor Kelly called for in her 2023 State of the State address.
  • Empowers Parents to Be Involved in their Children’s Education: The bill includes $9.4 million for Parents as Teachers, a program that provides parents with skills and knowledge about child health and development and connects them to community-based services to assist with their child’s education.
  • Supports the Teacher Workforce: The bill includes $1.8 million to support teacher professional development and $1.3 million for a program that provides teachers early in their careers with mentors to support their professional growth.
  • Invests in Early Childhood Education and Literacy: The bill includes $23.7 million from the Children’s Initiative Fund for the Early Childhood Block Grant to support children’s programs with a focus on early childhood, health, mental health, and child welfare. It includes $4.2 million for a Pre-K Pilot Program to explore ways more Kansas schools can prepare children for kindergarten, as well as $1.4 million for IT and data management in the early childhood space. It also includes $1.5 million to expand the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a program that gifts books to children from birth to five years old for free.
  • Gives Students the Technical Skills for a Modern Economy: The bill includes $1.5 million to transport students to career and technical education opportunities, $1 million to ensure more students learn computer science, and $40,000 for a pilot program expanding the ways students can receive career and technical education credentials.

Kelly's office said that while the bill includes a $7.5 million increase in funding for special education, it does not include the $72 million she has called for throughout the legislative session "to put Kansas on the path to fully fund special education."

“Republicans and Democrats agree we must put Kansas on track to fully fund special education, something that would impact each and every student. When legislators return in 2024, they must correct their mistake and fulfill my plan to increase investments in special education,” Kelly said.

Find Kelly's message to the Legislature and more information about her line-item vetoes here.