Topeka A tax increase to raise more money for public schools isn't likely to pass the Legislature and may be unnecessary because the state's budget picture is likely to improve, Gov. Bill Graves said Friday.
Spending for public schools is likely to be the biggest issue for legislators during their 2001 session. The new Legislature will decide whether to rewrite a 1992 law that determines how money is distributed to the state's 304 school districts.
In addition, Graves appointed a 13-member task force to study how to revise the law. During a Statehouse news conference Friday, Graves said he expects the task force to recommend spending more money on education.
He also said many legislators have told him that "they're willing to do just about everything or anything they can to support education financially" short of a tax increase.
"I just doubt that there is enough interest among legislators to support that," Graves said. "I'm probably unlikely to recommend something like that."
The governor said if the economy continues to perform well, the additional tax revenue would enable the state to increase education spending over several years.
"The potential exists for some pretty significant dollars to be available for us to make decisions with," Graves said.
Graves said the current funding formula "has done awfully well" since its inception in 1992. However, he also said it has become increasingly difficult to balance the needs of districts with declining enrollment with those of growing districts.
"Sustaining the quality in a district with fewer kids while at the same time also providing adequate funding for growing districts puts huge fiscal pressure on us," Graves said. "That's one of the hardest issues we have to deal with."
Graves said the funding formula also doesn't provide any money for technological improvements in schools.
"Only now are we realizing how important that investment is, and the formula doesn't even address technology," he said. "Basically, they have to carve technology investment out of the base budget amounts."
The governor also defended a closed meeting of the school finance task force last month. He said the task force is an advisory group that doesn't make binding decisions.
"There's nothing about this group that makes it a public body," Graves said.