Topeka A new budget-balancing plan outlined Tuesday would increase aid to public schools by $50 per student for each of the next three fiscal years, but legislators first must renew the property tax levy that funds education.
The plan, from a bipartisan group of 16 House freshmen, would raise basic state aid to school districts to $3,913 per student in fiscal 2004 from its current $3,863. The figure would increase to $3,963 in fiscal 2005 and $4,013 in fiscal 2006.
Schools would receive an additional $29 million in fiscal 2004, then see similar increases during the next two fiscal years.
But those increases would be more than wiped out if the state does not renew its levy for public schools, set at 20 mills, or $184 a year for a home valued at $100,000. A mill is equal to $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.
The levy is expected to provide $258 million for schools in fiscal 2004.
Two months ago, the Senate approved a bill imposing the levy for another two years -- the maximum period allowed by the Kansas Constitution. It has yet to pass the House.
House Taxation Committee chairman John Edmonds, R-Great Bend, said the House panel has not acted on the bill because he did not want to give up leverage in negotiations over other tax issues. Such negotiations were under way Tuesday, the day before the Legislature was to reconvene to wrap up its business for the year.
Edmonds said a provision to renew the levy would be included in compromise legislation on other tax issues.
On Monday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee included the levy's renewal in a separate school finance bill.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was nervous enough about the school levy that she expressed her concern in a letter she sent legislators last week, outlining her proposed amendments to the state budget.
But House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said Tuesday he was sure it would pass.
Superintendents and other education officials have complained in recent years that the state provides too little money for public schools, especially given higher personnel, utility and health insurance costs.
Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said a $50 increase each year would not keep up with inflation. Still, he praised the freshmen legislators for seeking higher taxes to solve the state's budget problems.