Topeka Legislators and members of the State Board of Education met Monday in a rare session to discuss not how much money school districts need but how to remove obstacles to learning.
The list of possible solutions was lengthy: extended school days, teacher training, parental involvement and early childhood programs, to name a few. All are elements of the state board's three-year, $1.16 billion enhancement package.
While board members remained resolute on the need for additional resources, legislators were mindful of the political reality.
"I don't think the major initiative will be this year," Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen said.
Oleen, R-Manhattan, led the charge during the 2001 Legislature to increase funding for schools. In the end, despite failed attempts to do more, legislators approved a $67 million increase in school spending, pushing the total to more than $2.3 billion.
The state board adopted a proposal last month to increase teacher salaries to the national average over three years, provide for longer extended learning time and reward student achievement
"We didn't back into the goals with the money, we started with goals and went the other way," said board member Janet Waugh of Kansas City, Kan.
During small group discussions, board member Carol Rupe of Wichita said her group believed less micromanaging by legislators would benefit learning by letting educators do their job.
Still, she said, most solutions for removing obstacles for learning "does apply to funding, I'm afraid."
Oleen said there are several factors at play in the 2002 session, including legislators who oppose spending more education.
Those people, she said, are interested in making it appear that they are doing something about the problem of increasing property taxes.
During the 2001 session, the House voted to cut the statewide levy for education to 18 from 20 mills and increase the exemption to $30,000 from $20,000 on the assessed value of residential property.
The measure was dropped in conference committee despite objections from conservative Republicans who insisted on some level of tax relief.
Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer and chairman of the Legislative Education Planning Committee, said Monday's meeting set a foundation for future dialogue with the state board.
As chairman of the education committee, he invested a great deal of political reputation on the Senate floor pushing for more legislative spending in 2001.
"We're not fighting each other; we're fighting with each other to do something for kids," Umbarger said.
Legislators also are waiting for completion of a study on the cost of an adequate education. Umbarger said a firm interested in contracting for the work will make a presentation Tuesday to the LEPC.
The study is not expected to be complete until late in the 2002 session, which legislators say may be too late to affect the school finance debate.
The state board's plan was expected to be endorsed Tuesday by the Kansas Association of School Boards.
"Unless the state takes action, the quality of education in Kansas will deteriorate," said KASB executive director John Koepke in a news release.
"In fact, the very survival of some schools is under threat."