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Archive for Wednesday, March 30, 2005

House to vote on $127 million school finance package

March 30, 2005

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— Republicans believe a plan to increase how much the state spends on public schools by up to $127 million a year would satisfy a Supreme Court ruling, but opponents say the proposal could lead to huge property tax increases.

The court gave legislators until April 12 to improve education funding, and the House planned to vote Wednesday on a measure endorsed by GOP leaders. Because the Senate approved the measure last week, House passage would send the bill to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius' fellow Democrats have said the package won't comply with the Supreme Court's ruling and rural legislators have said it promises their schools too little.

In its Jan. 3 ruling, the Supreme Court said the Legislature had failed to meet its "constitutional duty" to provide for the continuous improvement of education. The court, while not giving specific dollar amounts, told legislators to base spending on the actual costs of providing a suitable education, as defined by the Kansas Constitution and state laws.

The plan would increase general state aid to the state's 301 school districts using existing state revenues and cash reserves. Spending also would increase for programs aimed at low-income students, as well as special education and bilingual programs.

The measure also would give local school districts new authority to raise local property taxes to supplement their state aid -- something critics say would favor wealthy districts and could lead to big increases in property taxes.

Meade Superintendent Robert Herbig said the plan is shortsighted.

"To raise our local property taxes is just transferring the buck from the Legislature to the local board," Herbig said.

Under the plan, the state aid to schools would increase by $116.2 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. However, negotiators inserted language to allow an additional $11 million if revenue projections for the coming fiscal year are favorable.

School districts would be allowed to raise local property taxes up to 27 percent of their general operating budget in the 2005-06 school year, increasing to 30 percent in 2007-08. The current cap is 25 percent.

Some Democrats have pointed out that the bill could lead to as much as $485 million in local property tax increases statewide.

Seventeen districts with housing prices at or above 125 percent of the state average would be allowed to raise property taxes by an additional 5 percent. The Department of Education calculates higher property taxes would provide more money to those 17 districts than increasing state aid.

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