For Kansas State Representative Melissa Rooker, it wasn’t only the contents of the education finance bill that she found distasteful, the way the bill was assembled and passed also did not sit well. In her recent newsletter, Rooker called the last minute tactics “a classic version of psychological warfare.”
Rep. Melissa Rooker will hold a community forum at 9 a.m. Saturday at Sylvester Powell Jr. Community Center in Mission.
The warfare included the repeated call to session and recess every couple of hours on Sunday. That process started at noon Sunday, Rooker said, after working late Friday night, all day Saturday and into the early morning hours Sunday. The bill finally passed near 11 p.m. Sunday night after “strong-arming” to round up votes for a version that amended the school funding formula, added a corporate scholarship tax credit, wiped out due process for teachers among other provisions.
Under court mandate to fix equalization aid in school funding, the education finance bill was perhaps the most important piece of legislation of the session. House members only got the bill a half-hour before the vote, Rooker said, and then it was a conference committee summary report, not the full text of the bill. Rather than “negotiating in good faith,” she said, “this bill was pushed through at the 11th hour.” Concepts that had been rejected in committee after hours of hearings were brought back to life.
Rooker had been part of a small group that worked on an education bill which received bi-partisan support and passed 91-31 on Friday. While she wasn’t thrilled with every part of the bill, Rooker said, she “had to give on some issues to get votes (for it).” It had none of the severe policy changes that had been defeated in committee, like the corporate scholarship credit. Even the governor had expressed support for it. “That should have been the House negotiating position (in conference committee),” she said.
Now, she wonders if her small caucus of traditional Republicans got played into building a framework for the more objectionable bill that passed with the tax credits. She points to a January Facebook exchange on the Game On for Kansas Schools page in which former Brownback budget director Steve Anderson says donors are lined up for the scholarship program and the Catholic schools have agreed to $7,000 per year tuition (the bill allows $8,000 scholarships). Rooker now believes Brownback “will have no problem signing this (the finance bill that passed).”
Exhausted after the session, Rooker now believes she will have a conservative opponent in the primary. She and the other northeast Johnson County representatives who voted against the bill are up for re-election this year. “Our willingness to fight for this (is important),” she said. “It’s that important to be there.”