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Archive for Saturday, February 5, 2005

Morris says Senate GOP will have school finance plan next week

February 5, 2005

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— Republican senators plan to unveil a three-year plan next week for increasing education funding, relying on existing state revenues for at least the first year, Senate President Steve Morris said Friday.

Morris, R-Hugoton, provided few details, saying during a news conference that it hasn't been finished. He said it will provide an increase in aid to all school districts, as well as extra money for bilingual education and special education and programs for minority and low-income children.

He also wouldn't rule out proposing higher taxes, taking effect after the state's 2006 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Morris disclosed Senate Republicans' plans at the end of the 2005 Legislature's fourth week, with no plan having emerged. The Legislature faces an April 12 deadline, set by the state Supreme Court, to improve education funding.

"The out-years on a plan may require -- probably would require -- new revenue of some kind," Morris told reporters. "Our intent would be to be able to do the first year of the plan within current resources."

Chairwoman Jean Schodorf said she will present a framework for a plan to the Senate Education Committee next week, one that increases spending but also provides oversight of how the money is spent.

"From this foundation, I am hopeful we can build a plan that is satisfactory to Kansans, to our courts and to a majority of legislators," said Schodorf, R-Wichita.

Pressed for details about how the plan would be financed, Morris said legislators could make a series of small budget adjustments, diverting funds to schools.

But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, was skeptical.

"It's kind of the same smoke-and-mirror stuff we've done over the years to avoid the real issue, and the real issue is whether we're going to come up with long-term, stable funding," Hensley said.

Hensley said legislators ought to reconsider a proposal they rejected last year from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to raise sales and income taxes to phase in over three years a $310 million increase in annual spending, on top of the current $2.7 billion.

In the House, Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said he expects the chamber to pass a plan before the end of the month. He also said again that while he expects legislators to satisfy the court, work on fixing school finance is likely to continue into future years as well.

Democrats have criticized Mays for suggesting that legislators can satisfy the court without raising taxes but not outlining a specific plan. Mays has called on Democrats to make proposals.

"We are not trying to do anything on the cheap," Mays said. "We are trying to go about this logically, not emotionally."

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