Topeka Gov. Joan Finney signed into law Saturday night the bill under which more than a half-billion dollars of state aid will be distributed to Kansas' 304 local school districts in the 1991-92 school year.
Mrs. Finney signed the bill despite a previous threat to veto it if the Legislature did not accompany it with a funding package that would provide money to hold down school property taxes.
No funding bill has been passed, and won't be before the wrapup session starting April 24.
She said the plan before her, although not adequately funded, represented enough of her proposal and enough benefits to Kansas school children, teachers and boards that she decided to sign it.
Major provisions allow school districts to increase their budgets by 1 percent or 3 percent next year, depending upon whether they spent more or less, per pupil, than the statewide median, in the current school year, and to merge over three years the two largest enrollment categories.
REP. SANDY Praeger, R-Lawrence, said she was thankful the governor chose to sign the bill. Praeger had visited Finney early Saturday, asking her to sign the bill.
Praeger said the funding formula in the bill is "good policy" that does something the Lawrence district has been after for years by eliminating difference between the two largest enrollment categories.
But Praeger also said additional funding for the bill is needed. Without more money, the Lawrence district could face an 18 mill increase in property taxes next year.
"It puts the pressure on," Praeger said of the need for state funding.
Mrs. Finney told a news conference in her office as lawmakers struggled to reach first adjournment Saturday night that she seriously considered vetoing the school finance bill, but decided the good outweighed the bad.
ASKED WHAT persuaded her not to veto it, she replied, ``Last evening I went to Jefferson County and took a walk by myself and said, `What do the people want me to do?'
``No. 1, they want education funded. No. 2, they want fairness in taxation, and they want my plan. Thirdly, they want me to speak up win, lose or draw and to stand up for what I believe is right, and that is what I'm doing.''
She said she will work diligently between now and final adjournment of the Legislature to get a tax package enacted that will ease the property tax increase the school finance plan would dictate if no new state money is appropriated for elementary and secondary education.
``Over the next 10 days,'' Mrs. Finney told reporters, ``I will continue to carry my case to the people, so perhaps when legislators return home they will hear from the people on main street.''
SCHOOL support groups had urged Mrs. Finney to sign the bill, fearing the budget increases might be eliminated altogether if the Legislature enacted another school finance bill.
Sen. Joe Harder, R-Moundridge, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he was pleased Mrs. Finney had signed the bill.
``I thought the bill accomplished equity for school districts in Kansas,'' Harder said. ``Now, we're going to have to very seriously consider some revenue enhancements to prevent a massive property tax increase.''
The bill Mrs. Finney signed amends the formula used to distribute state aid to local school districts, but does not include the money.
The funding is contained in a separate appropriations bill that the Legislature went home Saturday night without passing.
The Senate reduced state general aid to public education by $14 million in its funding measure, while the House enacted a $120 million income tax increase bill and dedicated all of that new revenue to school finance.
UNDER THE Senate version, school property taxes would increase by $159 million next year if all districts raise their budgets the maximum allowed under the bill signed by Mrs. Finney. Under the House version, property taxes would decline by $34.7 million next year. That is because of the $120 million influx of new money from the income tax increase bill.
The House tax bill has been heavily amended by the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee, and the money it would raise, now $163 million, is not dedicated to school finance as it was in the House version.
Mrs. Finney said the Senate tax plan would raise income taxes for average wage earners by about 8 percent. ``That's a lot of money,'' she said.
IN A STATEMENT she read before signing the school finance bill, Mrs. Finney said, ``The education formula reform and aid equalization bill I sign today embodies my recommendations to set district budget limits at 101 and 103 percent, and to merge the fourth and fifth enrollment categories for more equity.
``It would allow teacher salary increases averaging 4 percent and operating budget improvements of about 4.5 percent.''
However, she added, the Legislature ``has done less than half the job I required,'' noting it has not passed a funding package to hold down property taxes.