Topeka — Lawmakers on Monday gave a preview of the next school funding fight as they struggled over hiring a consultant that will determine the cost of a "suitable education" for Kansas children.
Members of the Legislative Education Planning Committee quickly found themselves at odds, wrangling over what to include in the study.
"Frankly, there is no consensus on what is a suitable education," Sen. Bob Lyon, R-Winchester, said. And that made it difficult to formulate a list of items to ask the consultant to study.
The $225,000 study was commissioned by the Legislature earlier this year after it rejected a tax increase for public schools.
Those on both sides of the fight see the study's conclusions as critical to the school funding debate that will continue during the 2001 legislative session.
The state spends about $2.4 billion per year on public education for kindergarten through 12th grades.
Schools received an increase of about a $67 million for the current fiscal year, but school groups have said another $650 million is needed.
Monday, Sen. Christine Downey, D-Inman, said she wanted the consultants to look at an expanded list of factors driving education costs.
Among those factors, which were submitted by the State Board of Education, were the costs of hiring competent, caring and qualified staff, nursing services, smaller class sizes, and student and staff safety.
Downey said she wanted the consultants to find out what a "good school provides" and then figure out what that costs.
But other members of the committee said many of the factors provided by the education board were implicit in the requirements of state law.
Other committee members said they either didn't want to give the consultants that much direction or didn't agree with all the items on the list.
Sen. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, said, "I don't want to give the impression that the school districts are writing the RFP (request for bid proposals)."
The committee agreed that when it sought bids on the study, it would give bidders the list of factors submitted by the education board but not specifically include it in the request for bids.
"We're having some birthing pains," said Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer and chairman of the committee.
The committee agreed that the study should focus on the cost of educating students to be qualified for college and should consider the variance in costs depending on the size and location of the school and the number of at-risk children and other special needs children.
Umbarger said he hoped the consultant would be hired by late August and provide a report to the Legislature during the 2001 legislative session.
Mark Tallman, a spokesman for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said if the study was "done right, it will help the Legislature understand the deficiencies that there are in the system.
"I hope the study will move in the direction of where do we need to be for the results we want."