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Archive for Wednesday, October 16, 1991

SCHOOL FINANCING FACING CHALLENGES

October 16, 1991

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Kansas school districts would lose a lot of local autonomy if the Legislature were ever to truly equalize financing for all districts, a Lawrence school official said this morning.

For that reason, some compromise toward total equalization is more likely to occur, said Craig Fiegel, the district's director for business and facilities.

Fiegel was commenting on a judge's ruling Monday implying that major changes might have to be made in the state system for financing public schools. Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock listed principles the state must follow in distributing money to Kansas' 304 school districts.

Several districts have filed lawsuits charging that the present funding system violates the Kansas Constitution, which says the state must provide each child with equal access to a good education.

Fiegel said the only way to truly equalize school financing would be to put through a statewide funding formula on all of the money spent on education, including school property taxes, which presently are determined locally.

"THAT'S THE best way to equalize it, but I don't think anybody thinks that would necessarily be the best thing to do," Fiegel said. "We want the state to pay the bill, but we want local control."

Fiegel said that perhaps some compromise will be developed in which school districts continue to levy property taxes, and a new state property tax is developed to generate revenues for a state funding formula.

Lawrence school board member Harriet Shaffer said she thinks such a proposal could receive some opposition.

"I think people are tired of what they consider to be an over-reliance on property taxes," Shaffer said.

According to a report released last year by the Kansas-National Education Assn. and the Kansas Association of School Boards, Kansas' per capita local property tax burden in fiscal year 1987 was 13.6 percent greater than the national average.

SHAFFER ALSO shared Fiegel's concern with local autonomy, saying, "I don't think most people realize that the state controls the money that a school district can spend per student."

The formula that the Legislature uses to determine each district's budget authority, which in the end determines the amount spent per pupil, has been the cause for several of the lawsuits calling for greater equalization of school financing.

For example, last school year, districts like Lawrence in the second largest enrollment category had a median per-pupil expenditure of $3,278, compared to a median per-pupil expenditure of $3,712 for districts like Shawnee Mission that are in the largest enrollment category.

"It shouldn't cost Shawnee Mission any more to educate those kids than it does Lawrence," Fiegel said.

A bill passed by the Legislature this year will help districts in the second largest enrollment category by eventually raising their per-pupil funding to the same level as schools in the larger enrollment category.

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