Archive for Sunday, February 22, 2004

Lawrence schools to gain under education proposal

February 22, 2004


— For Lawrence school officials, there are more than two million reasons to support Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' education plan.

Under the Sebelius proposal, the Lawrence school district would receive nearly $2.1 million in additional state funding for the 2004-05 school year, according to state officials.

"Right now, we're supporting that plan," Supt. Randy Weseman said. "It has its good points."

Sebelius' plan to increase state income, sales and property taxes to fund a $304 million increase to public schools will be voted on this week by the Senate against a tangled legal and political backdrop.

A district court judge has declared the school-finance system unconstitutional, saying it is under-funded and the funding method discriminates against minorities. In addition, Sebelius' call for a tax increase comes as all legislative seats are up for election this year.

From 1998 to the current school year, the Lawrence district's state aid and local tax budget has increased from $52.2 million to $54.8 million, about a 5 percent rise in the five-year period.

Years of nominal state funding increases, then a cut in state funding, have led to the slow-growth budget.

In addition, Lawrence has experienced a decline in enrollment since 2000, dropping from 10,325 students to 9,817 students.

The effects of declining enrollment can be masked for several years, but with four consecutive years of enrollment decreases, state aid to the district is affected.

Tom Bracciano, the school district's director of operations and facility planning, said based on birth information and the number of children in preschools, enrollment is expected to decrease another year before starting to climb again.

Sebelius' school plan would increase base state aid per pupil statewide by $100 in the next school year. Base state aid is currently $3,863 per pupil, the same level it has been for two years and $263 more per student than it was in 1992 when the current school-finance formula was formed.

Under base state aid increase, Lawrence would receive an additional $1.1 million.

The governor's plan also makes adjustments to how funds are weighted for certain kinds of students. For example, the plan increases the amount of funding for at-risk students, which means Lawrence would get $410,878 more next school year. And the plan closes the funding gap between large and small schools, which would provide an additional $431,566.

The Sebelius plan also pumps in more money for all-day kindergarten -- $137,137 for Lawrence.

Here are the key components of the governor's plan to fund public education in Kansas:¢ Five percent surcharge on individual state income tax that takes effect July 1.¢ Sales tax increase from the current 5.3 percent to 5.5 percent on July 1; 5.6 percent on July 1, 2005; and 5.7 percent on July 1, 2006.¢ One mill increase in school property tax on July 1, 2005, and another mill increase on July 1, 2007. A mill is a tax of $1 per $1,000 assessed valuation.

Sebelius claims these measures address the concerns of the court ruling and the federal No Child Left Behind legislation that calls for an end to gaps in achievement between certain groups of students.

"I think that certainly is the best effort that we are going to see and that we have seen for a while," Weseman said. "It gives us the ability to plan for the next two years."

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