Topeka A bill giving school districts more leeway to raise property taxes to supplement state aid won narrow House approval Friday.
By a 65-59 vote, the House sent the Senate a bill allowing school boards to raise their local option budgets above the cap now set at 25 percent of a district's total state aid.
"The current LOB cap is forcing local districts toward mediocrity," said House Education Chairman Ralph Tanner, R-Baldwin City. "If a district wants to provide for excellence in education, the state should not stand in its way."
However, some legislators said the bill represents a tax increase and will harm many rural districts.
Currently, districts may increase their budgets by a maximum 25 percent through local property taxes, and district residents can force a vote.
The House bill would allow more than 20 districts at the 25 percent limit to raise the LOB to a maximum 30 percent, subject to voter approval.
Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, said he did not think the bill would be embraced in his chamber.
House Majority Leader Shari Weber said that raising the LOB limit would give districts more control over funding and curriculum.
"School districts should be allowed to increase the amount of local funding they provide within their district if the voters desire to do so," said Weber, R-Herington.
However, raising the cap on LOBs puts the state at risk of losing $10 million in federal aid for school districts. The aid is contingent upon the difference between the highest and lowest district budgets being no more than 25 percent.
As an example, Rep. Bill Reardon, D-Kansas City, said, as soon as the Shawnee Mission district in Johnson County one of the wealthiest in the state raises its LOB, the gap between high and low budgets will exceed the federal limit.
In such a case, the effect will be a loss of about $21 per pupil for 300 of the 304 districts, Reardon said. Federal aid would only got to districts with a high percentage of military personnel.
Reardon said the net effect is a tax increase that is likely to bring about a court ruling stating the school finance formula is unconstitutional because it is inequitable.
Republicans said it was too early to speculate how the courts would rule on the state system.
In addition, they noted that the state already faces a federal lawsuit that will be heard later this year. The Salina and Dodge City districts filed the lawsuit, alleging that the school finance law denies minority and disabled students their fair share of funds.
Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee met twice Friday to whittle down its priorities for a new school finance package. Wednesday, a two-year, $263 million plan, which raised taxes on sales, liquor, tobacco and soft drinks was sent back to the committee.
State revenue estimates have cast doubts on any substantial increase for schools this year.