Archive for Saturday, June 18, 2005

Legislators propose school finance plans

June 18, 2005


— Two weeks after the Kansas Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to increase school funding, and days before a special session, legislators Friday were tripping over themselves to get their plans front and center.

"I guess that's encouraging," Lawrence school Supt. Randy Weseman said.

But Weseman said he was less encouraged about the substance of some of the proposals.

The Kansas Supreme Court has declared the $2.8 billion school finance system unconstitutional because it shortchanges students, especially those in poorer districts. Republicans, who hold majorities in the Legislature, increased funding by $142 million, but the court said that still fell $143 million short and gave the Legislature until July 1 to bridge the gap.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has called lawmakers into a special session starting Wednesday. An unexpected increase in state tax revenues is expected to be enough to cover the court order, although Sebelius also has called for expanded casino gambling to produce revenues for next year when more funds probably will be needed for education.

One plan has tax relief

On Friday, a group of prominent Senate Republicans produced the first legislative plan since the Supreme Court decision.

What's the plan?

On Friday: ¢ Six Republicans outlined a proposal to increase state education spending by $150 million. ¢ Two Democratic senators discussed their party's plan to provide an additional $144 million for schools. ¢ Three GOP senators from Johnson County also announced a $143 million plan.

The proposal would increase funding by $110 million - $33 million short of the court order - and provide $40 million in property tax relief.

"I don't understand how that meets the court order," Weseman said.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said he didn't think the Legislature had to comply with the court order.

But Schmidt added that the proposal - also supported by Sens. Jean Schodorf of Wichita, Dwayne Umbarger of Thayer, Pat Apple of Louisburg and Vickie Schmidt of Topeka - did address many of the court's concerns.

It would increase base state aid to schools and provide more funds for special education and programs for at-risk students. And, he said, the additional state money would buy down local property taxes in poorer areas, in effect narrowing the gap between rich and poor districts, which was cited as a problem by the court.

Reaction mixed

Under the proposal, Lawrence schools would receive an additional $3.8 million in state funds for the coming school year, but no property tax relief.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka liked some aspects of Schmidt's proposal, but added, "The question is, does that $40 million in property tax relief constitute additional school funding and is it in compliance with the Supreme Court order?"

The Senate Democratic plan would increase school funding by $144 million. Under that proposal, Lawrence would get an additional $4.5 million in state aid.

Alan Rupe, a Wichita attorney who represented plaintiff school districts that won the case, said the Schmidt plan had some positive and negative aspects.

"It looks like they're adding money where it needs to be added: at-risk, special ed and the base state aid," Rupe said.

But one provision in the Schmidt plan was unfair, Rupe said. It would prohibit school districts from spending general fund revenue on litigation against the state.

"I guess the strategy for them is to come close to the Supreme Court order and then choke off the plaintiffs so they can't fund any additional litigation," he said.

Another plan was forwarded by a group of Johnson County Republicans and would favor more wealthy districts, such as Johnson County and Douglas County. Their proposal would reinstate options for districts to increase local property taxes, although those provisions were struck down by the court.

Conservatives plan rally at Statehouse

Topeka - Conservative Republicans plan to rally today at the Statehouse to protest the Kansas Supreme Court decision to increase school funding. In a unanimous decision, the court said a Republican school finance plan failed to meet constitutional muster, and it ordered lawmakers to increase school funding by $285 million by July 1. Lawmakers will meet in a special session starting Wednesday to address the court order. On the Kansas Republican Assembly Web site, the group said ralliers should tie the court decision to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat. "In order to be effectual with the press, we recommend that only two versions of signs be made that have the wording, 'Stop the Kansas Sebelius Court' or 'Stop the Activist Sebelius Court.'" Of the six justices on the court, Sebelius has appointed one. The rally is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.


simmons09 12 years, 11 months ago

I don't like the fact that the Courts have gotten into the business of ordering the legislature to raise taxes to fund programs. I believe this abuses the separation of powers doctrine. However, I think that the legislature should get down to business and fund the one program in this state that demands the appropriate funding, Education. Our state and country's future is at stake and poor districts deserve the same education that the richer districts provide. I am a republican and I think the republicans in Kansas have missed the point. Democrates should not rejoice because the Governor has not shown the leadership and presented her plan for consideration. If we need to raise taxes to fund quality, not minimum, but quality education then so be it. I don't have kids in school but I do have grandkids and they deserve the best education possible. So Kansas get off your duffs and get business, no half measures. Fight with the courts later.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 11 months ago

Governor Sebelius has had a plan on the table going on two years now which was rejected by the republican majority. The republican majority could have avoided the court order and back the Sebelius plan...once again chose not to do so.

Now they are trying to distract the public with their rally whose emphasis will be on lying to the voters about the state supreme court. Governor Sebelius has place one judge to the bench and at least 3 were appointed by Republican administrations yet the rally will focus on the supreme court instead of funding public education.

If the republicans can meet the courts order and come close to the Sebelius Plan without raising taxes,which is preferable, then I say get on with it.

Bruce Bertsch 12 years, 11 months ago

Those who don't like the courts ordering the legislature to fund education need to remember that funding of education is mandated in the state constitution. This is not the fault of the court or Governor Sebelius, it is the fault of a "do nothing" legislature that has refused to fund any level of education, including universities at an acceptable level. The legislature brought this on itself. Maybe our legislators should spend less time on gays, guns and abortion clinics and more on the education of Kansas children.

usaschools 12 years, 11 months ago

It is not true that the Governor has not proposed a plan. Her proposal was dismissed by the Republican controlled legislature because it would have required more revenues. Now the Republicans would LOVE for her to introduce a plan first, since we quite obviously need to increase revenue for schools and that will likely involve a tax increase. They would love to pin that on someone else.

The fact is that the cumulative cost to the state from lost revenue from the Republican tax cuts of the last decade totals between 800-900 million per year. This is more than enough to adequately fund schools. It should be added that our property taxes have INCREASED during this time, due to the legislature passing the buck to local districts to avoid responsibility themselves. This is unfair to poor school districts where the property is not worth enough to generate much revenue. But I digress. The point is that, although tax cuts may be a good idea and are politically powerful, it is possible that we have gone to far and need to reinstate some taxes to meet our obligations to children and schools. Polls have repeatedly shown that Kansans FAVOR increased taxes IF the money goes to fund education (KG-12).

Read the Kansas Constitution. The court has every authority to order remedies when constitutional obligations are not being met by the legislature. They are not prohibited from ordering remedies that require expenditures. If the legislature took care of their business, they would not have forced the courts into this situation. They are not being "activists." The true "activists" are those who would suggest amending the constitution to limit the court's authority or pass laws to water down the quality of education our constitution demands. There is nothing more conservative than upholding the law of the land - the State Constitution- and defending our public schools from irresponsible politicians who put political gain over our children. I applaud the court for standing up for our children. I am shocked, dismayed, and frightened by those who suggest that the legislature has the right to disobey the supreme court. There are educational standards for social studies in this state. One of the things we teach our children is the rule of law. The courts are the ultimate authority on the interpretation of the law, not the legislature.

More than 1/2 of our state legislators have only a high-school diploma. Less than half graduated from college. I think this speaks volumes about how much they value education.

blakus 12 years, 11 months ago

It is sad to see the Legislature working in this manner. Conservative Republicans would rather divert the attention of the problem of school finance towards the court rather than themselves. Democrats I would have to say are no better. The problem here is that the Legislature forgets who they are representing. They represent the people of Kansas, especially the children. What a better way to build the state's economy and resources than to treat our children like second-class citizens and give them reason to leave this crazy state. In all this talk of money and taxes, it seems that many forget about the grim future this state faces if we do not support our children adequately now. We are going to have to raise taxes at some point to cover the rising costs of education. Band-aid solutions are not an option at this point.

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