Archive for Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Senate panel proposes three-year, $415 million school finance plan

Plan has no specified funding source for second and third years

February 8, 2005


— A Senate committee today proposed a $415 million school funding package aimed at satisfying a Kansas Supreme Court order to increase funding for elementary and secondary education.

The plan would phase in the full increase over three years. It would increase spending in its first year by $125 million, using existing state revenues and tapping $80 million in cash reserves. The committee identified no funding source the second and third years of the plan.

The package, drafted by the Education Committee, was the first proposal unveiled this session designed to meet an April 12 deadline set by the Kansas Supreme Court for improving school funding.

While the proposal would increase aid to all school districts, it also would provide new dollars for bilingual education, special education and programs for at-risk children, following suggestions offered by the court in its Jan. 3 order to the Legislature.

The plan would give districts authority to raise local property taxes to supplement the additional state dollars.

"I believe this plan will improve education for Kansas," said committee Chairwoman Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita.

Last year, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius proposed increasing sales and income taxes to allow the state to phase in over three years a $310 million package increase in annual spending.

Kansas spends $2.7 billion in state aid to its 301 school districts. The proposed increase would be the largest infusion of state dollars since the current finance law was rewritten in 1992.

Under the plan, a $400-per-student increase in aid for all districts would be phased in over three years. Also, a district could use local property taxes to raise an amount equal to 30 percent of its state funds; the limit is now 25 percent.

The plan also would resurrect an oversight committee -- created in 1992 but later abolished -- that would be charged with monitoring trends in education and recommending funding adjustments each year. Oversight would include annual audits of school spending.

House Republican leaders have said repeatedly they think legislators can address the Supreme Court's order without increasing taxes. In the Senate, President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, has ruled out higher taxes to finance the second and third years of the Senate committee's plan.

Democrats have been skeptical that legislators can satisfy the court without raising taxes.

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