Topeka Kansas public schools would receive a $208.4 million increase in funding during the next two years, and local school districts could raise even more under a proposal unveiled Friday.
The "Investment in Excellence" plan would be funded with current statewide tax rates, growth in the economy and dipping into the state's cash reserves.
"We're presenting a plan we hope gets kids ready for the 21st century economy," said Sen. Nick Jordan, R-Shawnee, who with Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, put the proposal together.
Both Jordan and Wilk said they believed the plan would resolve a Kansas Supreme Court order on school finance. The court has declared the current $2.7 billion school finance system unconstitutional and given the Legislature until April 12 to increase funding and allocate those funds more fairly.
But because the plan lacked a definite source of continuing revenue, Democrats said they were lukewarm to the plan.
"At some point, there is going to have to be a bipartisan group of legislators to discuss that," said House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney, Greensburg.
Democrats say that because of skyrocketing Medicaid costs and increasing debt service to pay off bonds for the state highway plan and pension system, it will probably take a tax increase to produce more revenues for schools.
But Wilk said lawmakers simply would have to exercise budget discipline in order to make the plan work.
"I think our Kansas economy is well on its way to recovery," Wilk said, adding that a statewide tax rate increase could hamper that recovery.
The Jordan-Wilk plan would:
- Increase school funding by $111.4 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, and $97 million the next fiscal year;
- Allow counties to increase taxes, after voter approval, to enhance school programs.
- Increase funding for at-risk, bilingual, special education and pre-school students.
- Fund a teacher mentor program by $1 million the first year and $2 million the second year.
- Provide college scholarships to students who will teach math and science in Kansas.
- Offer tax credits to businesses that partner with schools to provide degreed science and math teachers.
- Allow early admission to college for high school students who show a high level of ability in math and science.
Last year, Jordan and Wilk successfully pushed through a comprehensive bioscience research initiative.
This year, they said school funding for pre-school through 12th grade needs a comprehensive plan.
The proposal is the second one out of the chute this session. Earlier this week, Senate Republican leaders proposed a three-year $415 million plan. That plan also would be funded through existing state revenues and dipping into cash reserves for the first year.
House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said a select committee working on school finance will probably introduce a plan next week.