Topeka — The House Education Committee today endorsed a Senate-passed school finance plan after members added provisions to allow for larger budget increases by school districts for the next school year and to help some districts facing large property tax increases.
However, the committee did not change the basic philosophy behind the bill, one that abandons the approach of past school finance legislation and bases state aid on a district's student enrollment rather than its relative wealth compared to other districts.
The committee sent the bill to the House on a voice vote. Speaker Jim Braden, R-Clay Center, said the chamber will debate the measure Wednesday or Thursday. The Legislature is scheduled to return for its annual wrapup session Wednesday.
``It'd be my guess that it would hold up very well in the House,'' Committee Chairman Don Crumbaker, R-Brewster, said of the bill.
THE COMMITTEE adopted the Senate's plan to guarantee that school districts would receive the same amount of general state aid per pupil in the next school year as they received in this school year. Thus, the only way a district could see its share of the $546 million in state funds increase or decrease would be if its total student enrollment increased or decreased.
The committee also adopted the Senate's plan to allow districts to increase their budgets 1 percent or 2 percent, based upon how much they spend per pupil.
KENNETH Fisher, assistant superintendent for business and facilities at Lawrence Public Schools, said the proposed state aid was probably the best that school districts could hope for given the confusion over reappraisal and classification.
"The legislators can't really do much until they have good figures," he said.
Fisher said the plan was definitely a welcome alternative for Lawrence, which would have lost an estimated $2.7 million in state aid next year had the current school equalization formula been used. That loss would have been due to the estimated $90 million increase in the district's wealth.
"We do believe in school equalization, but the definition of district wealth has to be changed," Fisher said.
HOWEVER, the committee added amendments to:
Allow districts to increase their budgets up to an additional 2 percent, although voters could force an election on the additional proposed increase by filing protest petitions. The Senate version allowed an additional 1 percent increase, subject to a possible election.
Distribute $1.15 million to districts that have both a projected property tax mill levy of 65 mills or more and face a tax increase of 10 mills or more if they attempt to increase their budgets as much as they can under the plan. A mill is $1 in taxation for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.
Force the state to pay a portion of the bill if districts go to the State Board of Tax Appeals for authority to levy additional taxes to cover the cost of operations associated with new buildings.
Set the ``permanent'' budget increase limits at 3 percent and 9 percent, as opposed to the Senate's proposed 1 percent and 3 percent. The permanent lids are placed in state law so that if the Legislature fails to pass a school finance bill, districts will have some guidance in determining their budgets for the next school year.