Archive for Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Sebelius plan: $300 million; higher sales, income, property taxes

January 13, 2004


— Calling it a matter of public duty, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Monday the state should spend $300 million more on public schools over the next three years by raising taxes.

The money -- including $137 million during the fiscal year that begins July 1 -- would be used for teacher raises, early childhood education and programs to raise the scores of poor and minority students on standardized tests.

Sebelius wants legislators to gradually raise the 5.3 percent sales tax to 5.7 percent by July 2006, and to impose a 5 percent income tax surcharge. The sales tax increase would raise $61.1 million during fiscal year 2005, which begins July 1, while higher income taxes would provide $97.5 million.

The governor also proposed increasing the state's 20-mill property tax levy for schools to 21 mills next year and 22 mills in 2007. For the owner of a $50,000 home, the change would add $3 to next year's property tax bill while raising $23 million for schools.

Sebelius, in her State of the State speech, said Kansas must strengthen public education as a matter of duty rather than because of a court order, pressure from education groups or a consultant's study.

"We must act now before what are now just cracks in its foundation bring the quality of our education system down around us," Sebelius said in her prepared text.

Kansas spends $2.6 billion in state revenues on schools, and more than $3 billion when local and federal funds are considered.

Sebelius recommended that a school audit team be created in the state budget division to help school districts become more efficient. Similar efforts have been successful in Texas and Virginia, she added.

"I believe they'll help Kansas school districts streamline their management and business practices so that more dollars reach the classroom and fewer are spent on unnecessary layers of bureaucracy," Sebelius said, suggesting part of her program would be financed by reallocating existing state and local revenues.

Since taking office, teams appointed by the governor have identified more than $85 million in savings in state government, though some critics say the figure is inflated.

In the Republican response to the Democratic governor's speech, House Speaker Doug Mays said the issue warrants "thoughtful deliberations."

"A consensus must be reached, and that will require time," said Mays, R-Topeka.

The package is less than the $1 billion remedy suggested by Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock in a preliminary order on Dec. 2. Ruling in a lawsuit filed by parents and administrators in Dodge City and Salina, Bullock gave legislators until July 1 to fix what he identified as constitutional flaws in the state's 1992 school finance law.

Bullock based his estimate on eight days of court testimony and a 2002 consultants' study that suggested Kansas needs to spend an additional $853 million, or $780 per pupil, on elementary and secondary education.

Legislators have never approved an increase greater than $50 per pupil in any given year since 1992. The current figure is $3,863.

The State Board of Education in August endorsed a budget plan that would raise per-pupil spending by $100, at a total cost of about $58 million. The plan also called for an additional $25 million for special education programs, $14 million grants to improve reading and math scores and $4.7 million for at-risk students.

Bullock's ruling focused on poor and minority students who need additional help in bringing their scores on standardized tests closer to other students' marks.

Sebelius said elected officials have the duty of providing all children with a quality education, borrowing a theme used by Bullock. She called her plan "a first step."

"If we do anything less, we will fail the generations of Kansas leaders who came before us, and we will fail those who will inherit the responsibilities of leadership from us," Sebelius said.

Legislators already were looking at school finance issues in the House and Senate Education committees, and leaders have appointed a special task force on school finance that is scheduled to issue recommendations by the end of 2004.

Sebelius last year named former State Board of Regents member Sylvia Robinson to lead a 27-member education policy team whose recommendations were the basis of the governor's enhancement package.

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