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Archive for Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Education groups announce budget plan

Coalition partners request $650 million in spending to be funded with state taxes

July 11, 2001

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Three education groups Tuesday unveiled a $650 million spending plan for Kansas public schools that would be financed with higher state taxes.

It's a message that resonates like fingernails on a chalkboard to state legislators opposed to tax increases, said Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards.

But KASB and its coalition partners United School Administrators of Kansas and Kansas National Education Assn. say they'll push hard in the 2002 Legislature for tax increases that support public education.

It's a logical reaction to years of inadequate state funding, say coalition representatives and Lawrence school board members.

"As overwhelming as that number sounds ... it must be put in context," Tallman said. "We have to get salaries up for teachers. We also need new investments for kids we've never been able to reach."

Linda Robinson, who joined the Lawrence school board July 1, said state lawmakers must be convinced public school budgets are in distress.

"We're facing a crisis," Robinson said. "If elected people don't agree, we just have to elect different people."

Key elements of the coalition's proposal to the Kansas State Board of Education:

l Raise to $4,500 from $3,870 the base per-pupil aid from the state. Legislators approved $50 base increases the past two sessions.

l Fully fund each district's special-education costs.

l Increase support for early-childhood and full-time kindergarten programs.

The coalition offered its plan to the state Board of Education, which is meeting in Topeka to work on preliminary budget recommendations for the 2002 session.

Tallman said the state's public school system was ranked in the top 10 nationally in some areas of student performance. Despite overall good results, he said, not all students succeed academically.

Additional resources need to be invested in children from disadvantaged families and children struggling with disabilities or language and cultural barriers, Tallman said.

He said more state money would help districts recruit and retain teachers.

To raise cash for salary, health care and utility costs, more local school boards in Kansas are relying on the local-option budget, which increases local property taxes.

"This means the burden of school finance is shifting from statewide support to unequal local tax bases," Tallman said.

In Lawrence, the school board is assessing the maximum LOB.

Sue Morgan, Lawrence school board president, said there was no question the Legislature ought to elevate funding to public education.

However, she's not confident lawmakers agree.

"We can't rely on the Legislature doing something," Morgan said.

The Lawrence district will turn this fall to trimming academic program costs, she said. Administrative costs were reduced this year.

She said future options program cuts that involve staff reductions or reassignments will be "unpleasant."

"It means it's going to be unpopular with someone," she said.

Board member Scott Morgan said more state money was needed, but he wasn't certain $650 million hit the mark.

"What that dollar amount is, is still a mystery to me," he said.

Education groups need to more effectively make a case that substantial spending increases are justified, he said.

Without a persuasive pitch, Scott Morgan said, "Too often we get a collective eye roll from taxpayers."

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