Topeka Gov. Bill Graves dropped broad hints Friday about a new school finance plan he is drafting. He confirmed that he'll seek a bigger increase in school budgets and is considering using bonds to help pay for it.
He also hinted that his school finance package will include proposed changes in the formula the state uses to distribute more than $2.26 billion to its 304 school districts. The governor even said he'd release his plan to legislators on March 12 or 13.
But reporters couldn't pull more details out of him during his weekly Statehouse news conference.
"Last time I was foolish enough to answer a specific question about any of the elements we might be looking at, in funding anything, it became headline news," Graves said.
What Graves will propose became a matter of speculation for legislative leaders Friday, who have said they don't expect much progress in the school finance debate until Graves outlines his plan.
Graves recommended a spending increase on public schools of about $68 million as part of his proposed budget for the state's 2002 fiscal year, which begins July 1. His plan would increase the base budget for public schools by $50 per student, to $3,870 for their 2001-02 academic year.
But many education officials see a bigger increase in spending as necessary to maintain good schools, and Graves himself said his first budget proposal is inadequate.
A proposal before the Senate Education Committee would increase the state's sales tax by 0.2 cents on the dollar each year for three years, raising the tax from 4.9 percent to 5.5 percent. It would raise about $450 million $75 million in fiscal 2002; another $150 in fiscal 2003; and $225 million in fiscal 2004.
The base budget for public schools would increase by $90 per student, to $3,910, in fiscal 2002; to $4,000, in fiscal 2003; to $4,090, in fiscal 2004. The state also would increase its spending on special education programs.
Senate Republicans plan to discuss the proposal next week. Graves wouldn't say how large his new proposal would be, but he said it would increase schools' base budget by more than $50 per student.