Archive for Tuesday, January 13, 2004

School officials welcome governor’s proposals

January 13, 2004


Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' plan for raising taxes at least $304 million to boost public education spending brought a quick smile Monday night to the faces of Lawrence school officials.

The color drained from their cheeks slightly as they calculated how many members of the 2004 House and Senate appeared willing to block tax increases that would relieve pressure on public school district budgets.

"At first blush, it would indicate that the governor has made a significant step to improving funding of education," Lawrence schools Supt. Randy Weseman said. "We have to be realistic about this proposal. It is a tax increase. It will be bitterly disputed."

Sebelius said in her State of the State address in Topeka that her goal was to make Kansas schools the nation's best by 2014.

She unveiled an "Education First" program that would inject $304 million in new tax revenue into public schools over three years.

"Everyone in this chamber knows that we are not adequately funding our schools," Sebelius told a joint session of the 2004 Legislature. "We cannot pay teachers substandard wages and continue to have a world-class education system."

She recommended increases in the state's sales, income and property taxes with much of the money going to public education.

School board member Sue Morgan lauded Sebelius' proposal to direct spending toward teacher salaries; early childhood education, including all-day kindergarten; and at-risk students struggling to achieve academically.

"To get assistance in those three areas, recruiting and maintaining quality staff and then the early-education focus, which goes directly to the performance gaps with kids, I think are very consistent with this district's priorities," Morgan said.

She said the governor was "bucking the election-year jargon and no-tax-increase-for-anything thinking."

Board member Leni Salkind said it was clear Sebelius listened to Kansans who urged her to take the lead in proposing a plan that improved education funding.

"It's the first time in years we've had somebody strong enough to get up and say it," Salkind said.

But Republicans in the House and Senate are unlikely to rally behind the governor's education program, said board member Linda Robinson.

"(House Speaker) Doug Mays was not clapping too much," she said.

Sebelius also recommended creation of a new state audit team that would review district finances and help schools eliminate bureaucratic waste.

"I believe in efficiency," said Weseman said. "I would welcome that in the Lawrence school district. I think she's on the right track there."

Sebelius said years of inadequate funding of public schools had started to show. It can be measured in the number of underpaid teachers who have fled the profession, she said. It also can be counted in a growing student achievement gap that "threatens to doom thousands of poor and minority students to failure."

The Lawrence school board typically would already have started drafting its 2004-2005 budget, but that process was delayed until after the governor's speech. The district's budget committee will begin meeting Jan. 20. The school board will meet Jan. 26 for a study session on the budget.

Weseman has said it was possible the district would need to outline options for cutting at least $1.5 million from district spending. That is based on an assumption the 2004 Legislature won't increase spending to public school districts.

Here's a look at the details of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' $304 million "Education First" plan:Annual cost¢ Fiscal 2005 (starts July 1, 2004): $137 million.¢ Fiscal 2006: An additional $83 million.¢ Fiscal 2007: An additional $84 million.What it does¢ Raises base state aid per pupil, currently $3,863, by $100 this July, $75 in July 2005 and $75 in July 2006.¢ Increases aid to districts for each student who receives free or reduced-priced lunch; total cost, $25.4 million in fiscal 2005.¢ Increases aid to districts for each bilingual student; total cost, $1.1 million in fiscal 2005.¢ Provides aid to poor school districts for equipment; total cost, $15 million in fiscal 2005.¢ Makes all-day kindergarten available for children receiving free and reduced-priced lunches; total cost, $17 million in fiscal 2005.¢ Adds $6 million in fiscal 2005 for special education programs for infants and toddlers.¢ Establishes efficiency audits of school district budgets, costing $250,000 in fiscal 2005.Paying for it¢ Increases state's 5.3 percent sales tax to 5.5 percent this July, 5.6 percent in July 2005 and 5.7 percent in July 2006. Total raised, $148.9 million over three years.¢ Imposes 5 percent surcharge on personal income taxes beginning July 1, with no expiration date. Total raised, $102.5 million over three years.¢ Raises statewide mill levy for schools, currently 20 mills, to 21 mills in 2005 and 22 mills in 2007. Total raised, $124 million over three years.Source: Office of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius

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