Archive for Tuesday, March 23, 2004

House votes to approve school finance plan

March 23, 2004

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— A sharply divided Kansas House today gave preliminary approval to a school finance plan that would allow local school districts to raise their property taxes to increase funding.

The measure proposed by House Republican leaders was advanced to a final vote, 63-62. Final consideration of the bill is expected tomorrow.

Democrats argued the measure would further disequalize funding between poor and wealthy school districts because the wealthier districts would have a greater ability to raise local taxes.

"This bill doesn't make any sense," Rep. Martha "Marti" Crow, D-Leavenworth, said. "It's designed to serve a handful of districts."

But House GOP leaders described it as a stop-gap measure during tight economic times that would avoid a statewide tax increase.

"I haven't seen 63 people who say they are supportive of a tax increase," House Majority Leader Clay Aurand, R-Courtland, said.

Under the plan, $28.4 million in state funds would be spent to increase funding of programs for at-risk students and students who are learning English.

The plan also authorizes local school boards to assess the statewide 20-mill levy for schools on the first $20,000 of assessed value on residential property. That revenue would then be used to help pay for special education. Currently, the first $20,000 of assessed valuation of a home is exempt from the state's 20-mill levy for schools.

In addition, the plan would include a new cost-of-living adjustment, in which 16 property wealthy districts, including Lawrence, would be able to increase local property taxes to make up for the high costs in those districts.

For Lawrence, the district would receive about $2.5 million in additional funding from the proposed state increases in at-risk and bilingual programs, and if the district abolished the $20,000 exemption and increased its local mill levy for the cost of living adjustment, according to figures provided by the Kansas Department of Education.

Locally, state Reps. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, Rob Boyer, R-Olathe, voted against the proposal.

State Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, voted for it.

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