Archive for Thursday, April 22, 2004

Senate Democrat offers school plan

April 22, 2004


— School districts would receive an extra $93 million in state aid financed by higher sales and income taxes under a plan outlined Wednesday by Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley.

The plan would also let districts raise their property taxes by a statewide total of $72 million.

Senators rejected six school finance plans -- including some requiring tax increases -- before recessing April 2. The Legislature reconvenes April 28 to wrap up business that is expected to include efforts to add to the $2.77 billion already appropriated to schools for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Hensley, D-Topeka, outlined his plan in an interview and in a letter to the Senate Education Committee.

His proposal would raise the state's 5.3 percent sales tax to 5.4 percent on July 1 and impose a 3 percent surcharge on individual income taxes.

General state aid to school districts would rise by $77 per pupil, to $3,940, and more money would be put into bilingual education, special education and programs for children considered at risk of failing.

"I feel it represents a compromise," Hensley said. "I want to move the process forward."

Senate Republicans also are working on a school finance plan, which Education Committee Chairman Dwayne Umbarger has predicted will be worth $60 million to $90 million.

Umbarger, R-Thayer, noted that the elements of Hensley's plan resemble parts of proposals considered previously and of others still under development.

"It's in the ballpark in terms of amount of money," Umbarger said in an interview. He is aiming to have a plan -- Hensley's or another one -- ready April 28.

Legislators have already rejected a three-year, $304 million proposal from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who now favors a House-passed bill giving districts an additional $155 million for one year through higher sales and income taxes. That bill would also let school districts raise property taxes by $120 million.

Spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said Sebelius hopes senators approve something similar to the House plan.

"The governor is very pleased that the Senate is having these discussions," she said.

Hensley said he also prefers the House plan but added, "I understand we've got to compromise."

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