Archive for Saturday, January 24, 2004

Sebelius ready to deal on education plan

January 24, 2004


— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' Education First plan may be the first one jettisoned by the Legislature.

Republican leaders on Friday said the proposal to increase taxes for public schools was "taking on water" and even Sebelius, a Democrat, conceded any final plan may look vastly different from the one she outlined less than two weeks ago to start the 2004 legislative session.

"I'm willing to look at all kinds of things," Sebelius said.

Sebelius proposed increases in the state income, sales and property taxes to fund a three-year, $304 million increase for schools.

But she quickly backed off a plan to alter the way special education funding is allocated after several large districts -- including Lawrence, Topeka and Wichita -- complained that they would lose millions of dollars under the change.

"The plan lost credibility," House Speaker Doug Mays, a Republican from Topeka, said after the special education proposal "blew up."

In addition, several Johnson County Republicans who traditionally vote to increase school funding made public statements complaining that Sebelius' plan took much more in taxes from the state's most populated and wealthiest county than it returned in school funding.

"I don't think we want to be in business of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor," Mays said.

But Sebelius rejected the notion that her proposal was set in stone, describing it as "a starting point of a conversation. I always assumed both the tax side and the program side would have vigorous debate in the legislative process."

Mays said Republicans, who hold significant majorities in the Kansas Legislature, "were not sitting still" on the issue of school finance and had discussed several proposals to increase the flexibility of school districts to raise funds through local tax increases.

But fellow Republican legislative leader, Senate President Dave Kerr, said movement in that direction didn't make sense in light of the recent court order that found the school finance system unconstitutional.

The ruling by Shawnee County Judge Terry Bullock said the $2.6 billion funding system was unfair, partly because it shortchanged students in poor districts that had difficulty raising additional local funds through taxes.

Bullock's order "took dead aim at everything local," Kerr said.

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